Sunderland defender Titus Bramble believes the club have missed the influence of captain Lee Cattermole.
Cattermole, 24, who was awarded a new long-term contract in October by manager Martin O'Neill, has been restricted to just ten league games this season due to a persistent knee injury.
And Bramble feels the Black Cats would be sitting higher in the league table had the former Middlesbrough man been available for the club more often.
"Lee's someone that we've really missed," he told the Sunderland Echo. "I look back at the recent Reading game, where we lost, for example, when we should have won and he would have been ideal for a match like that in terms of imposing himself on the game and giving us a platform. He's the captain and he can be a very influential player when he gets a run in the side.
"I've seen it at Wigan and I've seen it at Sunderland, and it's just one of those facts of football that if you take the captain out of any side it doesn't help you. He's been a big miss over the last few months because he's a leader with this great will to win. And when he gets himself in the groove and is really on his game he takes the whole team and the fans with him and gets everyone going.
"It's just a shame that this season he's had injuries which haven't really allowed him to contribute in the way he has done. But hopefully he'll be back to help us with the run-in because if he can get back and get a run of games in towards the end of the season it is going to be a big, big help to us."
Bramble's comments follow claims from former Sunderland midfielder Don Hutchinson that Cattermole's style of play is outdated. The ex-Scotland international spent a season on Wearside in 2000, and feels that for the midfielder to become a success at the Stadium of Light he must reinvent his game.
"I honestly don't see a player in Lee," he told the Sunday Sun. "The game has moved on now to have someone that just runs around picking up yellow and red cards all the time. To be fair to the guy, he has been unlucky in terms of injuries and that has probably not helped him. I think most of the time he tries too hard. He wants to become an enforcer, if you like, but modern-day footballers can easily play around that sort of player. He has to change.
"What does he have to do to become better? Well, he should sit in front of the two centre-halves, use his experience more and get his pass-completion rate higher. If I was Lee, I would make it my mission to feed Stephane Sessegnon, James McClean, Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham."