STEVE Bruce has no qualms about keeping faith with Sunderland’s young guns to halt the club’s descent towards the drop zone.
Sunderland’s starting XI at Birmingham City boasted an average age of just 23, with 19-year-old second half substitute Ryan Noble (right) giving Bruce’s side an even more youthful look.
With potentially eight first-team players out of Saturday’s clash with Bruce’s former club Wigan Athletic, the Sunderland boss has little option than to turn to youth.
But after handing a first Premier League start to 21-year-old Jack Colback last weekend, Bruce is confident Sunderland’s youngsters can secure the points needed to end any relegation worries.
Bruce told the Echo: “It’s been levelled at me that I’ve picked too many youngsters but youth is the best way forward.
“I won’t change my philosophy of bringing in young players, it’s the right way forward for the club. There’ll be times when they have ups and downs. But I’m relying on some of the young ones now to pull us through.
“I hope we can get through this, then get our big players back to give them a bit more experience. But the club will be better in the long term for having these young kids play their part.
“It can only be a good thing to have Colback at 21, Henderson at 20, Cattermole at 23 and Elmohamady at 23 playing first-team football.”
He added: “I thought Colback did great last weekend. He’s another young player whose grasped his chance and he did particularly well. He’ll be better for it.
“Ryan’s another young lad who we’ve got very high hopes for. It’s a bit early for him, if I’m being honest. But he’s certainly got an eye for a goal so we’ll see how he goes.”
The performance, if not the result, at Birmingham has at least given Bruce the belief that the side he assembled at St Andrew’s can register Sunderland’s first victory since January.
He also faces the unusual prospect of having to make just one potential change against the Latics.
Injuries have prevented Bruce from naming a settled side over the second half of the season.
But Danny Welbeck (hamstring) is the only injury doubt, with Kieran Richardson potentially taking the on-loan Manchester United striker’s place if he recovers from a calf strain.
Bruce said: “I’d love to be in a position where I had five or six or seven players back and decisions to make, say Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell training.
“But I’ll possibly only have one position to change.
“I was really pleased with the way we played at Birmingham. They were young and fresh and athletic and that’s why we were better, rather than having people who were carrying injuries and struggling.
“It was the best we’ve played in a couple of months, we didn’t quite get the result but that’s all I can ask for.
“If they play like that again then hopefully we can turn it round and get the result we want.”