Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer today insisted he never fell out with former boss Graeme Souness and that his relationship with Souness was not the reason behind his transfer to Sunderland last week. McAteer, who is hopeful that he will make his first appearance for the Black Cats when they travel to Middlesbrough tonight, explained that he and Souness remain on good terms and that football reasons sparked his departure from Ewood Park and not personal reasons.

"We had our differences of opinion, but we did get on," he said of the former Liverpool manager. "It was just that football is a game of opinions. He didn't fancy me and one thing led to another and I left. I spoke to Peter Reid and it was absolutely fantastic - like a breath of fresh air. I got on with most of the staff at Blackburn, so it's obviously disappointing, but it's that old cliché, I had to do what was best for Jason McAteer, and staying around as a squad member at Blackburn wasn't doing me any good," he added.

With a new club and the possibility of making the World Cup finals with the Republic of Ireland, things are looking up for the 30-year-old and he has renewed his ambitions. "My ambition is to win things and to get back playing all the time. I've got an international situation where we could be going to the World Cup next year. I very much want to be in the first XI with Ireland rather than being in the squad, and I need to be playing, and that was one of the biggest factors in my decision to leave Blackburn and get playing first-team football," he explained.

However, tonight, he faces a possible baptism of fire in what is one of the Premiership's biggest fixtures of the season. "It's a massive game and that's what I want. A North-East derby, there's no bigger game to start in. I've played in the Blackburn-Burnley derby and a little bit bigger, the Liverpool-Everton derby, so it will be nice to get a taste of this. I believe they're fiery affairs, so it will be nice - if selected - to get going," he added.

Filed by Amanda Fennelly