JOHN O’Shea is set to miss Sunderland’s pre-season friendlies against Burnley and Hartlepool, but boss Steve Bruce still expects the former Manchester United ace to be ready for the opening day game against Liverpool on August 13.
The Irishman, arguably Sunderland’s most significant signing of the summer, has barely featured for the Black Cats so far.
He returned home from the club’s pre-season tour of Germany as a precaution after suffering a hamstring niggle and will not be risked in the games against the Clarets tomorrow or Pools on Tuesday.
But Bruce insists the big defender will be ready for the start of the season.
He told the Echo: “I’ve got no worries about John. He wasn’t involved against Kilmarnock and I’m not looking at risking him in our next two friendlies – it’s a case of erring on the right side caution.
“But he should be able to play in our last pre-season game, against Hibs a week on Saturday, and if he comes through that he’ll come into contention for the Liverpool game.
“Every player is different, but the knock he’s got is not a serious one and he’s one of those players who can come into training and pick things up very quickly.
“As things stand, I’m sure he’ll be all right for the Liverpool game.”
Sunderland will have a defensive back line at Burnley tomorrow which is likely to be very different from the one that Bruce will see as his first choice when the season gets under way.
As well as O’Shea, Michael Turner and Titus Bramble are expected to play no part at Turf Moor, while Phil Bardsley, who picked up a knock at Kilmarnock, is a doubt.
Bruce said; “Michael and Titus have returned to training but are a bit sore so I don’t see them being involved against Burnley.
“Phil’s strained an adductor muscle but it’s not serious.”
Sunderland, though, will still field a strong side tomorrow and the Asamoah Gyan and Stephane Sessegnon partnership is likely to remain up front.
“It’s a pairing that we’re very excited about,” said the Black Cats’ boss.
“I think playing behind the main striker is Stephane’s strongest position and we saw signs at Kilmarnock how effectively they might work together.
“We needed to get more goals into our squad for next season. And in the recruitment of players like Connor Whickham, Ji Dong-won and Craig Gardner we’ve done that.
“But it could be that our biggest goal-getters are players that were already at the club.
“This will be Asamoah’s second season in the Premier League and I expect him to be better for the experience he’s had over the last 12 months of English football.
“In Stephane, we saw towards the end of last season how good he can be in front of goal and he’s carried that on in pre-season. We think he’s capable of getting 12 to 15 goals next season.”