STEVE Bruce today backed fit-again John O’Shea to lead Sunderland through troubled waters.
Summer signing O’Shea is set to make his Black Cats debut in Saturday’s crunch trip to newly-promoted Swansea City after five weeks out with a hamstring injury sustained just 30 minutes into his first pre-season outing against Arminia Bielefeld.
The 30-year-old returned to full training last week and wasted no time in reminding Bruce about his influence and experience after arriving in a £5million deal from Manchester United last month.
And with the flak flying over Sunderland’s winless start to the season after defeats in the derby and Carling Cup, Bruce insists O’Shea is just the character the Black Cats need to handle the increasing pressure to get results.
Bruce told the Echo: “I was toying with playing John at Brighton, but he’d only been in training for four days.
“We’ll need his experience at Swansea and it’ll be a big boost to the team. He’s someone who I know will be able to handle the situation.
“You can see his influence straight away after he’s joined in training. It’s huge.
“He’s worked like a beast, to be fair. He’s been at the training ground from 9am every day.
“His sheer professionalism is excellent and that’s why he’s been at the top for so long.”
O’Shea is expected to start at right-back at the Liberty Stadium, a move which is likely to see Phil Bardsley revert to left-back in place of Kieran Richardson after completing a one-match ban.
Bruce had contemplated that switch against Newcastle, only to think better of it due to O’Shea’s lack of training and the memory of the injury problems which dogged Sunderland last season.
But the Sunderland boss is confident that O’Shea will be in suitable shape to face the Swans despite the Republic of Ireland international being sidelined for the vast majority of pre-season.
“He’ll be fine to play against Swansea, he’s the type of player who won’t need a game beforehand,” said Bruce.
“His physical welfare is very good, but you’re always a bit worried with a hamstring. He’s done everything right though.
“I was never tempted to play him against Newcastle after what happened last year.
“But there’s been a bit of common sense, too. He did it five weeks ago and only returned to training last Thursday so he was never really going to be a starter.
“I needed to give him 10 days of training and hopefully he’ll be a in position to play against Swansea.”