TITUS Bramble is set for an extended stay at the heart of Sunderland’s defence after fellow centre-half Michael Turner suffered a fresh injury blow.
Bramble was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up for Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge last weekend after more than two months on the sidelines due to a club suspension and then injury problems.
But Bramble impressed in keeping in-form Blackburn hitman Yakubu under wraps and looks set to continue at Tottenham on Sunday, with Turner expected to be ruled out for around three weeks due to a knee injury.
O’Neill admits Sunderland need to keep a careful watch on Bramble’s fitness, given the 30-year-old has been plagued by knee trouble over the last year.
But the former Aston Villa boss has adopted a clean slate over Bramble’s off-the-field troubles, which saw the defender suspended by the club for six weeks for going nightclubbing 24 hours after Sunderland’s defeat at Norwich in September, when he was due in for training the following day.
O’Neill told the Echo: “Titus played in the reserve game for about 75 minutes last week and that was only his second reserve game since he’d been out through suspension and injury.
“But with Michael Turner out for a few weeks, I thought if Titus could last a certain amount of time in the game, he would give us that little bit of extra strength in the back-line that we’d need.
“He did very well and he’s one of those who you have to manage his fitness.
“He reminds me of a player we had at Aston Villa, Martin Laursen.
“He was a brilliant centre-half, but we didn’t see him that often in training. He had to do his own rehabilitation. But you knew come game-time, he was ready for the match.”
He added: “It was an easier decision for me to pick Titus than you would imagine. What has happened in the past, is in the past.
“It wasn’t a brave decision, it was just an easy decision because he was there and available to play. He has the ability, he said he was ready for it and he did very well indeed.”
Turner has missed Sunderland’s last two games and will be absent for the club’s festive fixtures after seeking specialist opinion this week.
It is a blow for the former Hull City defender, who was beginning to rediscover his best form following a harrowing recovery from knee ligament damage.
“He’s had a bit of a setback,” said O’Neill. “He went down to see the specialist on Tuesday and he’s saying his knee is just slow to recover at the moment. It looks like he’ll be out for around three weeks.
“From at one time being optimistic that he would be available for Blackburn, he’ll now miss the Christmas period, which is tough.”