Steve Bruce has put defender George McCartney's dip in form largely down to 'personal problems'.
The 28-year-old Northern Ireland international has fallen dramatically down the pecking order at the Stadium of Light.
He made his last appearance in the goalless draw with Fulham last month but has struggled to maintain a regular berth since then.
Bruce has instead elected to field central defender Anton Ferdinand as a makeshift replacement for full-back McCartney who he believes is unsettled on Wearside.
The Black Cats boss admits McCartney has been plagued by injuries since joining the club which has far from helped him settle in.
"Nobody's really asked me about George McCartney but he is injured, he's got a hamstring problem and that's legit," he told the Northern Echo.
"He had personal problems before but he's over that now.
"I'm not being disrespectful to George but he was having a tough time and sometimes you need to be taken out of the firing line for a bit to recharge the batteries and come again.
"George has got to accept that, which I'm convinced he will. Hopefully."