Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has urged Anton Ferdinand to follow the example of Danny Welbeck and seize his chance in a Sunderland shirt when the Black Cats host his former club West Ham on Sunday.
Welbeck is currently keeping Asamoah Gyan out of the team after scoring four goals in his last three games, but it is defence that is giving Bruce a real headache. First-choice centre-back pair Michael Turner and Titus Bramble suffered injuries within days of each other last month, and Bruce was angry at his side's defending as they slipped to a 3-2 defeat at Wolves last weekend.
"Here's his chance," said the Sunderland boss. "He's been here a couple of years and it's about time he grabbed it. That's the challenge to him. It's a bit like Danny Welbeck's done, coming into the team and giving me a huge, huge problem. I hope Anton can do that, too."
Nedum Onuoha and Paulo Da Silva are both options in central defence but it is Ferdinand and Ghanaian John Mensah who are in pole position.
Ferdinand cost £8million when he joined the Black Cats from West Ham in the summer of 2008 but he has figured only sporadically this season, and Bruce has challenged the 25-year-old to make the most of his opportunity.
He added: "John Mensah needs a run of games as well. We all know what a talented player he is but we need them to step up to the plate.
"I've still got Da Silva and the option of Onuoha, too. But they're the immediate ones, the challenge is there for Mensah and Ferdinand.
"We were disappointed last week because defensively we were all over the place and gave away bad goals, which hasn't been us. That was us last year.
"There's only Chelsea and Manchester United that have kept more clean sheets and that was the reason for our success, we didn't give much away, we were hard to beat.
"It's cruel we've lost the two of them, I just hope we can overcome that."