STEVE Bruce has warned Sunderland’s new boys that they won’t automatically feature on the opening day at Liverpool.
Bruce handed starts to three summer signings in Saturday’s final pre-season friendly at Hibs, while a further three entered the fray in the second half of the goalless Easter Road draw.
Although Wes Brown and Seb Larsson look certain starters at Anfield this weekend, the likes of David Vaughan, Craig Gardner, Keiren Westwood, Ji Dong-won and Connor Wickham will have to sweat on their places for Saturday’s encounter.
Bruce is delighted that his eight fresh faces, along with last season’s loanee Ahmed Elmohamady, have increased competition in Sunderland’s ranks, but the Black Cats boss recognises that he still has the bulk of a squad which secured a top 10 finish last year.
“It’s important for the new guys to settle in, but it’s important to remember, too, that without the eight new guys, the team here last year finished 10th,” said Bruce.
“If they think they’re just going to walk into the team, they’re wrong.
“I’ve got in mind the team I’m going to play at the weekend and, in my mind, it will be the best team and the best formation to get us a decent result at Anfield.
“There might be a surprise or two in there.
“We’ve got fierce competition, bigger than we’ve had for a long, long time which is good for a manager.
“And while that might mean that several players have to wait for their chances, that’s the way it is going to be.
“Ultimately I’ve got to pick 11 and it’s up to them to hang onto the shirt.
“Competition is the biggest weapon a manager can have and I’m pleased with the competition we’ve got.
“I’m also pleased the players who needed to come through pre-season, like Michael Turner, Titus Bramble and Lee Cattermole, have done.”
Bruce will this week assess summer signing John O’Shea, although the Republic of Ireland international is unlikely to feature against Liverpool after playing just 30 minutes during pre-season because of a hamstring injury.
The other injury concern for Bruce is Kieran Richardson after the left-back limped off 10 minutes into the second half against Hibs with a groin strain.
But Bruce doesn’t think the problem is sufficient to rule Richardson out of the trip to Anfield, with the 26-year-old expected to return to training later in the week.
“We took Kieran off as a precaution because his groin was a bit tight,” added Bruce.
“We’ll know more in the next 24 to 48 hours but we think he’ll be OK.”
On the Hibs game itself, Bruce commented: “It was bang average game, Defensively we were sound.
“Wes Brown was a real plus for me – he’s getting better with every game. We lacked a cutting edge and were a bit laboured, but then again we had a game in midweek.
“Now the real preparation can begin. The players are in good physical condition – we’ve seen to that – so let’s get ready for the challenge ahead.”
H West Ham manager Sam Allardyce blamed his side’s poor finishing for their shock 1-0 home defeat by Cardiff.
Kenny Miller’s stoppage-time strike won the day, with ex-Sunderland player Allardyce saying: “We’ve lost a game we really should have won, so it’s a hugely disappointing day for everyone.
“I just hope it’s one of those days. It didn’t go for us. We weren’t clinical enough.”
H Wolves are being linked with a move for Celtic’s former Sunderland striker, Daryl Murphy.