JACK Colback starts his first Premier League game at Birmingham tomorrow as Sunderland manager Steve Bruce looks to give fit and in-form players their chance.
Former youth team and reserve team captain Colback has impressed in substitute appearances in recent weeks.
And Bruce believes the 21-year-old has earned the right to play at a time when his squad has been further limited by a fresh crop of injuries.
John Mensah (groin), Anton Ferdinand (hamstring) and Kieran Richardson (calf) all failed to finish last Saturday’s game against West Brom while Sulley Muntari joined them on the injury list yesterday when he suffered a calf strain in training.
Of those four, only Richardson has hopes of being involved at St Andrew’s tomorrow but even his involvement is dependent on a late fitness test.
And Bruce admits that injuries have reached the point where they are dictating his selection policy.
Also in line for recalls are home-grown talent Jordan Henderson and January signing Stephane Sessegnon.
The manager told the Echo: “It will be Jack’s first Premier League start and I know he will come in and be desperate to make an impact. He’s full of energy, he’s a good footballer and he is desperate to do well.
“He’s been at the club since his school days and no one can doubt his commitment to Sunderland Football Club.
“Jack will stand up and be counted, that’s for certain. He deserves his chance.
“After seeing so many players come off injured early in the last few games, I need to pick a side that can get through the match tomorrow.
“At least the side I will put out will be young, fit and will give everything for the cause, because this game is vitally important and we will need them to be on their game.”
Colback has made only one other senior start – in Sunderland’s FA Cup defeat at home to Notts County three months ago – but has made just half a dozen Premier League appearances for the club, all as a substitute.
He does have plenty of first-team experience in the Championship though, having played 50 times for Ipswich in loan spells at Portman Road this season and last.
The injuries to Mensah and Ferdinand mean Bruce will also have to reshuffle his defence.
On-loan Manchester City man Nedum Onuoha has spent most of the season at right-back but – as one of Sunderland’s only two fit central defenders – could move into the centre-back role to partner Michael Turner.
If Richardson is fit to play, he will come in at left-back with Phil Bardsley switching to the right. Otherwise, Bardsley will stay on the left and Ahmed Elmohamady will take the right-back role.
Bruce said: “Kieran came off last weekend after getting kicked on the calf and he is a major doubt, but I am not writing off his chances completely at this stage.
“He could come into the mix, possibly at left-back, which allows me to move Phil Bardsley over to right-back.”
Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck will continue together up front, but young strikers Ryan Noble and Craig Lynch – who both scored for the reserves in midweek – are also in Bruce’s squad with the possibility of making an impact from the substitute’s bench.
Titus Bramble (knee cartilage), Fraizer Campbell (knee ligaments) and David Meyler (knee ligaments) remain completely sidelined.