GUS Poyet says he cannot guarantee Wes Brown a place in Sunderland’s Capital One Cup final side, with replacement Santiago Vergini showing such fine form since deputising.
And the head coach says the same applies all the way through his squad in the wake of what he described as: “the best week in training so far.”
When Brown was sent off against Hull City earlier this month, the idea that he would not be playing at Wembley if he was available was unthinkable.
But Poyet says Vergini’s could give him food for thought and it could yet be a close run thing.
He told the Echo: “A few weeks ago it was Wes Brown and John O’Shea - they were our first-choice and we were happy with that because we had a good partnership.
“That was so important to us.
“It was natural for us: we play Wes Brown and John O’Shea.
“But then Santiago came in and played very well against Southampton and we win the game 1-0.
“So I cannot imagine the problem I’m going to have next week if we go to Arsenal and we win and we keep a clean sheet and he’s man-of-the-match.
“For me it will be a good problem, for them a different sort of problem.
“Players get moments and opportunities and then if they take them - it’s not up to me anymore, they’ve forced me into a decision.
“Vito Mannone forced his way into the side like that and that opportunity is always open to others.”
Although it would still be a major surprise if Brown did not start at Wembley, Poyet’s comments are an indication of how much others are putting themselves forward.
He revealed: “Since I got to Sunderland, this has been the best week in training so far.
“I think it is because so many of the players who got into the side against Southampton at the weekend did so well.
“Now they know they have improved their chances of getting into the first team and have been lifted by that.
“Meanwhile, the players who were in the first team suddenly know they have to be at their very best if they are to stay in the first team.”
As for Brown, he has kicked himself ticking over in what is proving to be a longer lay-off than expected - a testing time on the sidelines for the classy defender.
“He has had a strange time of it”, admitted Poyet.
“First, when he was sent off, we were at least happy that he would only miss a week - with the Manchester City game midweek and Southampton the following weekend.
“But then the Man City game was called off, so instead of being one week, it will be three weeks - so there was a big change there.
“Actually, we had a laugh with him because we told him the Southampton game was likely to be called off as well - which would mean he would miss the final!
“It was cruel, I know, but it was funny.
“Actually, what was cruel was that we meant to tell him soon afterwards but we forgot so he ended up waiting a lot longer! We didn’t mean for that to happen.”