STEVE Bruce already has the Sunderland team in mind that will contest tomorrow’s eagerly anticipated derby against Newcastle United.
After a summer of team strengthening and the arrival of 10 new signings, the Black Cats’ boss is the first to admit that he has no shortage of options for line-ups going into the noon kick-off.
But he insists he won’t be agonising too much over his final starting line-up, with most of the names already clear in his head.
He told the Echo: “I have had it very much in my mind since early in the week what my team will be this weekend, but I won’t be revealing what the selection will be ahead of the game.
“There might be a bit of tinkering with the plans between now and kick-off, but I’d pretty much decided the team when we began our preparations after the weekend.”
It’s likely that there will not be a vast difference between the team which secured a deserved 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield last Saturday and the one which will emerge in front of a sell-out crowd at the Stadium of Light tomorrow.
Although Bruce was keeping his cards close to his chest, he did acknowledge: “The team played really well against Liverpool and I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of character or commitment.
“The way that they came back after going a goal down in front of a fired-up crowd did them credit and we’ll need just those sort of fighting qualities this weekend.
“I think people were a little bit surprised that I didn’t include more of my new signings at Liverpool, but I thought it was important to give chances to the players that served the club so well on so many occasions last season and got us a top- half finish despite all the injuries.”
Even so, Bruce admits there were some tough calls to make and says he is delighted he now has strength in depth.
“Craig Gardner or Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback or David Vaughan, Simon Mignolet or Keiren Westwood – I could go on and on all the way through the side ...
“One of the hardest jobs in management is simply trying to pick the right team and they were decisions I did not take lightly before the Liverpool game – there were some tough ones to make.
“But I was very pleased to get a point against Liverpool, very pleased with how the players picked went about their jobs, and it was great for me as a manager to be able to look around and see a bench as strong as the one we had compared to some of the benches we had last season.”