ALL three of Sunderland’s pre-season absentees will begin their quest this week to be fit for the Premier League curtain-raiser.
Wes Brown, Keiren Westwood and Asamoah Gyan are the only the members of the party who flew home from Germany on Saturday night who are yet to run out for the Black Cats during pre-season.
The trio were again sidelined in the final German friendly against Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday, but are expected to feature in Wednesday night’s trip to Kilmarnock.
Black Cats boss Steve Bruce is desperate to have new boys Brown and Westwood, along with last season’s top scorer Gyan, available for the Premier League opener against Liverpool in 19 days and hopes they can feature sufficiently before the encounter at Anfield.
Bruce told the Echo: “My aim is to get them all on against Kilmarnock.
“I need to make sure that come Liverpool, all of them have got something under their belt and played some minutes on the pitch.
“Wes will probably play against Kilmarnock on Wednesday, as will Gyan and Westwood.
“The main aim for me is to have as many selection headaches as I can come Liverpool, which is in three weeks’ time.”
One player who won’t feature at Rugby Park is defender Titus Bramble, who was dismissed for two bookings by bafflingly officious referee Christian Bandurski in the goalless draw with Monchengladbach.
The punishment for Bramble is a one-game pre-season ban, although there is no prospect of further repercussions after the official opted not to report the sending off to the English FA.
But it deprives Bramble of the chance to build up his fitness, with Bruce desperate to fine-tune those players who missed the end of last season through injury.
Bruce added: “The biggest concern for me during pre-season has been the ones who’ve been out for a long time. Michael Turner and Bramble are the big ones.
“Kieran Richardson was out for weeks but he’s a different shape, has a different balance and is a different type of player.
“The bigger lads are like big QE2s to get moving on! We need to get games into them – the more they play the better they’ll get.
“Thankfully we’re two and a half weeks in and they’re far better than they were two weeks ago against York. We expect them to be all right over the next few weeks.”
The big plus point in Saturday’s stalemate was the impact of Bruce’s two young strikers, with Connor Wickham and particularly Ji Dong-won impressing – the pair combining to create Sunderland’s best opportunity of the game.
“Ji is a special talent and we must be careful with him,” said Bruce.
“Both him and Connor are young and they’ll be good centre-forwards for Sunderland in years to come.
“But Ji’s movement and work-rate were absolutely terrific and he was arguably our best player on show.
“It was unfortunate with the one he created for Connor that it drifted just past the post.
“But his all-round link-up play was excellent and it was very good to see.”