STEVE Bruce insists David Meyler is ready to fight for a first-team spot after completing the necessary minutes for the reserves.
Bruce had pledged to ease Meyler back into first-team action after a second career-threatening knee injury sidelined the midfielder for eight months.
But the 22-year-old successfully completed a second successive 90 minute run-out for the reserves in midweek, in his fourth outing for the second string since returning to full fitness.
Boss Bruce believes Meyler can now be considered for a first-team spot and is delighted the former Republic of Ireland U21 international has added to his midfield options.
Bruce told the Echo: “There’s no need for the kid glove treatment with David any more – the gloves are off now.
“He played his second full 90 minutes for the reserves against Everton on Tuesday night and came through fine once again. As far as I’m concerned he is back in the squad and available.
“He’s had a terrible time with really bad injuries – injuries that could easily have finished his career.
“But he has worked incredibly hard to get fit. His attitude has been absolutely magnificent and there is no-one who was more determined to get back playing again than he was.
“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for him that all his injury problems are in the past now and that he stays fit.
“He deserves a bit of good luck after everything he has been through over the last 18 months or so.
“He could play a big part for us this season because he gives us a steel in central midfield and also a bit of extra height.”
Meyler’s horrific injury problems began in May, 2010, when he severed every tendon and ligament in his knee in a freak incident during Sunderland’s Stadium of Light outing against Manchester United.
He returned in December, but then suffered a relapse just five games into his comeback during January’s win at Aston Villa.
The former Cork City man spent the summer undergoing a rehabilitation programme in America and it has paid dividends after returning to action last month.
Meyler (left) played 45 minutes for the second string against Gateshead and after an hour against West Brom, he made an injury-time appearance for the first-team in the 2-2 draw with the Baggies earlier this month.
He completed his second 90 minutes for the reserves in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat at Everton.