NEDUM Onuoha will hand Steve Bruce’s derby plans a huge boost by declaring himself fit to face Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
The on-loan Manchester City defender has missed the last three games with a hamstring strain suffered against Blackpool on December 28.
But he has been back in training for more than week now and is ready to return at right-back for Sunday’s noon kick-off.
Onuoha’s return will allow Phil Bardsley to revert to left-back, where he has been outstanding over the last few months.
And with Titus Bramble partnering Anton Ferdinand in the centre, and Craig Gordon behind them at the weekend, it means Sunderland’s defence will have a more familiar look to it.
Bruce confirmed: “Onuoha should be ready to come back this weekend.
“He’s been out for a little while and he had a chance of playing in the FA Cup against Notts County last Saturday, but I thought it better to make sure he was fully recovered and raring to go for the derby.
“He hasn’t played first-team football since the injury, but he’s a super-fit lad so it won’ t be a problem.
“I’m glad he’s back because Nedum has been an important player for us this season and his pace will be needed against Jonas Gutierrez.
“We’ve got a very good record defensively this season. We’ve kept 11 clean sheets in 22 games and Nedum has been a big part of that.”
Bruce has also revealed that skipper Lee Cattermole (back) and striker Danny Welbeck (hamstring) have outside chances of making Sunday’s game.
Cattermole picked up a back problem against Blackpool a fortnight ago, while Welbeck suffered a hamstring problem at Villa Park a week ago.
Both were expected to be out until the end of the month.
But they are responding well to treatment and Bruce rates them “50-50” to be involved.
He plans to delay a decision on their inclusion as late as he can because either player being available would be such a bonus.
“Catts and Danny both have a chance, but I’d say they are only 50-50 at the moment,” he said.
“They are on the fringes of things and I’ll wait and see how they are nearer the weekend.
“I will make tomorrow the cut-off day, and if they are not ready by then, they won’t take part.
“Obviously, though, they are hugely important players for us and if they are fit to play it would be fantastic.”
Centre-half John Mensah is also approaching fitness after almost a month on the sidelines with an ankle injury. But knee ligament injury victims Michael Turner, David Meyler and Fraizer Campbell are all a long way off from returning.