Poyet backs Johnson to impress
Gus Poyet has set Adam Johnson the dual target of firing Sunderland to Barclays Premier League safety and himself to the World Cup finals.
England manager Roy Hodgson will be at the Stadium of Light on Saturday as Johnson and his team-mates attempt to secure a third successive league victory against Hull, and his visit could hardly have been better timed.
The 26-year-old winger, who won his last senior international cap against Italy in August 2012, picked up the Premier League's Player of the Month award for January on Friday after a blistering run of form which saw him score his seventh goal in as many games for his club in last Saturday's 3-0 derby victory at Newcastle.
That represents a major turn around for a man who had previously struggled to justify the £10million the Black Cats invested in him when they bought him from Manchester City, and with injuries threatening to limit Hodgson's midfield options, he could yet have a role to play in Brazil this summer.
Club boss Poyet said: "I am pleased for him. It wasn't an easy season. Sometimes, which is normal when you pay a lot of money for a player, you want him to perform every day and be the difference every time.
"But when you have such specific characteristics, you need the team to play one way, and he has helped us a lot.
"Let's see if he can win another one. I promise you, if he wins another Player of the Month, we are safe, that's for sure.
"I always say there is a group of players from the number that you can take to the World Cup who pick themselves. It could be 16, 17, 18, 19.
"But there are always going to be places for a few players if someone gets injured, or someone reaches an incredible level and you can't leave him behind.
"I'm sure if the World Cup was next week, Adam would be there, I have got no doubt.
"Now, the idea is can we make him maintain that level and have a chance at the end of campaign?"
Johnson arrived at the Stadium of Light in a blaze of publicity in August 2012, but neither Martin O'Neill, the man who signed him, nor successor Paolo Di Canio, were able to reap the rewards of that investment.
However, Poyet has managed to revitalise the graduate from Middlesbrough's famed Academy, and while he has played down his role, he believes their prior acquaintance has been a factor.
The Uruguayan said: "The good thing with Adam is that we knew each other from a short spell when Adam was a player [on loan] at Leeds and I was a coach with Dennis Wise, so we know each other.
"It's not like you are dealing with someone you have never met before. He knew my character, even if I was not in charge there and I was not making decisions, and it was easy to get on with him.
"It was not all his fault when he wasn't performing, and it's not only him now. We needed to share responsibility.
"But he is on the pitch. I can do everything possible, I can play one way and try to convince the player, but then it's down to Adam Johnson, it's nothing to do with me."
Sunderland will welcome Steve Bruce's Tigers - it will be the first time their former manager has been back to the club since his dismissal in November 2011 - to Wearside with Poyet having learned much about his team in a 1-0 defeat at the KC Stadium earlier this season, which saw the visitors reduced to nine men before half-time.
Their improvement since has been dramatic - they have lost just two of their last 14 games in all competitions - although Poyet has dismissed suggestions that his two-year contract should be extended.
He said: "No, because we have done nothing yet. My challenge is to get safe, and we are not, so let's get safe."