Matt Kilgallon insists the fit-again John O'Shea faces the battle of his life to force his way back into the Sunderland line-up at his expense.
O'Shea has not featured since picking up a calf strain against struggling Queens Park Rangers last month but is close to full fitness after returning to training recently.
In his place Kilgallon has formed a solid partnership with Michael Turner that has overseen two clean sheets in their last four games.
But with the pair both raring to go manager Martin O'Neill faces a tough choice as to twist or stick with the duo that have served him so well in recent weeks for the trip to Aston Villa on Saturday.
"John's breathing down my neck now," Kilgallon said. "He's come back to fitness and he is a great player.
"He's trained as though he has never been away, so I'm sure he will be in contention soon.
"It's been an incredible turnaround for me since Christmas and I don't really want the season to end, to be honest.
"It was hard when I was out of the team. You can start doubting yourself and wondering what has happened to you."