SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce admits Michael Turner and Titus Bramble have a long way to go to regain full fitness.
But he says he is delighted just to see the central defence partnership back on the pitch again.
The defenders played the full 90 minutes at York on Wednesday, coming through unscathed in Sunderland’s first pre-season game.
That in itself was a massive boost to the manager, who will look to the pair again in tomorrow’s friendly against Arminia Bielefeld in Germany.
Bruce told the Echo: “Michael and Titus are a long way off being at their best; a long, long way off.
“They were as rusty as you would expect them to be in their run-out this week and they couldn’t have got away with playing against Premier League opposition the way they played against York.
“But I’m just glad to get them both back on the pitch and getting through a game. They both had serious knee injuries last season and, if I’m honest, I wondered whether or not those injuries might roll over into next season.
“You always tend to fear the worst in this game, but the good news is that they’ve both come through no problem and it’s now just a question of building them up.”
Turner’s outing was only his sixth match of 2011 while Bramble (pictured below) endured a second half of last season blighted by a knee problem. The fact that both are on the comeback trail gives the manager real encouragement.
He said: “Titus and Michael were our first-choice pairing as centre-halves last season, considering that John Mensah wasn’t available to play all that often.
“They were brilliant when we were flying in the early stages of the season and keeping clean sheets.
“If you look at the stats you could see there was a clear improvement in points picked up when those two were playing together and if we have them both fit and raring to go at the start of the season it will really stand us in good stead.
“I’m not worried that they were a long way off their sharpest against York.
“These games are there to build fitness and the two of them just need as much competitive football as possible now to get them back in the groove.
“They’ll get plenty of chance to work on that over the next month and then hopefully we’ll start to see them at their best.
“I really rate the both of them and I don’t think they really got the credit they deserved last season – Michael was a rock at the back before that injury in November while Titus was a contender for Player of the Season before he got sidelined early in the New Year.
“I’ll be absolutely delighted if we have them both fit and sharp for the start of the season. If they stay fit and avoid injuries this time around, it will really stand us in good stead.”