SUNDERLAND cannot count on the absence of last season’s bogeyman Kevin Nolan as a sign of derby success.
That’s the view of Black Cats boss Steve Bruce, even though he admits the departure of Newcastle’s former skipper is a plus ahead of tomorrow’s noon showdown.
Nolan (pictured inset) notched four times against Sunderland last season, including a hat-trick in the 5-1 rout at St James’s Park, yet a contract wrangle saw the influential 29-year-old swap Tyneside for Championship West Ham during the summer.
The departed Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique were also key figures in last year’s derbies, with Newcastle still looking to replace both before the end of the transfer window.
Bruce is relieved the trio won’t figure, but believes Newcastle’s draw with Arsenal last weekend demonstrated that the Magpies are hardly a spent force.
“Of course I’m pleased that we won’t be facing Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll,” said Bruce.
“But players have come in to take their places and Newcastle got a good result last weekend. A point at any time against Arsenal is a good one.”
Bruce is unlikely to tinker with the Sunderland side that drew 1-1 at Liverpool last weekend.
That will again confine summer signings Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-won, David Vaughan, Craig Gardner and Keiren Westwood to the bench, while fellow new boy John O’Shea remains 50-50 after completing his second day of full training yesterday.
Bruce is pleased he can drip feed his acquisitions into proceedings and hopes those who are selected can maintain their discipline in the fiery atmosphere.
“It’s nice to know there’s a couple of £6million players behind you on the bench,” he said.
“That proves the squad is healthy and looking better which is important when it comes to competition. Make no mistake, they will all play some part in what will be a long season.
“I’ll make a decision on John O’Shea today and let’s hope it’s the right one.”
Bruce added: “There’s going to be yellow cards and flashpoints, but it’s important to play the game and not the occasion.
“We can’t afford to get caught up in the hype. There are mind games and all sorts of things which go into it.
“But we didn’t get distracted at Anfield last weekend and it will be about handling the atmosphere again tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Bruce has confirmed there has been interest from the Championship in unwanted defenders Matt Kilgallon and Nyron Nosworthy.
Bruce has already managed to offload out-of-favour duo Cristian Riveros and George McCartney this summer and remains keen to lessen the demands on Sunderland’s wage bill by finding new homes for Marcos Angeleri, Nosworthy and Kilgallon.
Angeleri’s former club Estudiantes remain interested in a return to Argentina for the full-back, while Nosworthy and Kilgallon are proven performers at Championship level.
Bruce said: “Kilgallon and Nosworthy are the only two at the moment and there’s a bit of interest from a couple of Championship clubs. We will see what develops over the next week or two.”