CRAIG Gordon and Michael Turner finally handed Martin O’Neill some good news on the injury front when both successfully came through a reserve game against Arsenal yesterday.
The duo helped Sunderland’s second string to a clean sheet as Keith Bertschin’s side ran out 2-0 winners over the Gunners at London’s Colney training ground yesterday afternoon.
First-half goals from Wearside striker Ryan Noble – an unused sub for the first-team at Wigan on Tuesday night – and former Chelsea trainee Billy Knott gave Sunderland a satisfying win while former Arsenal youth player Roarie Deacon also got a run-out against his former club.
Noble showed his intentions from the start, firing into the side netting inside a minute after good work from Craig Lynch.
Oumare Tounkara did well to get the better of Sead Hajrovic a few minutes later, but keeper Damian Martinez denied the big striker an opening goal when the frontman tried to round him.
Noble gave Sunderland the lead in the 18th minute when Louis Laing – also an unused sub at the DW Stadium – put in a free-kick which was nodded down by Tounkara and finished by Noble.
Knott doubled Sunderland’s advantage five minutes later in classy style, surging into the box and lobbing Martinez with a clever shot.
Gordon made a good save, denying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a brave save at the midfielder’s feet as he looked to set up striker Ju Young Park.
Arsenal went close twice in the second half, with Craig Eastmond volleying narrowly wide and Oxlade-Chamberlain blasting a free-kick against the bar, but Sunderland held firm to complete a fine victory.
Several young players pushed their first-team claims.
But what will have pleased O’Neill the most is that Gordon got through a full 90 minutes successfully, following some closed-doors training games, while Turner – not expected to be back unitil mid-to-late January – got through 70 minutes before being replaced.
Gordon has been a long-term injury victim, having not featured at all this season but he is rapidly closing in on a point where he will be available for first-team contention again.
Turner was injured just before O’Neill took charge of team affairs, but the new manager is an admirer and will be pleased that the big centre-half is now closing in on fitness again.
Sunderland have been beset with injury problems over the Christmas period, with Keiren Westwood, Titus Bramble, Kieran Richardson, Seb Larsson, Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley and Jack Colback all going down to illness or injury.
But none of the injuries are regarded as long-term as things stand.
And with Turner and Gordon making real signs of progress, O’Neill knows that, once the fixture list eases after this weekend’s cup tie against Peterborough, he could have a string of players returning almost as quickly to the squad as they originally dropped out.
ARSENAL RESERVES: Martinez, Hajrovic (Angha HT), Miquel, Boateng (Ansah 70), Hoyte, Eastmond, Yennaris, Ryo, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Murphy (Meade HT), Park
SUNDERLAND RESERVES: Gordon, Liddle, Laing, Turner (Marrs 70), Egan, Cook, Reed, Lynch, Knott, Tounkara (L Noble 70), R Noble (Deacon 77). Subs not used: Wilson, Elliot