MARTIN O’Neill believes Titus Bramble could be a key defender for Sunderland this season – despite dropping him for last week’s game against Manchester City.
The veteran centre-half has been in excellent form for the Black Cats this season, deputising for Carlos Cuellar while the Spaniard recovered from a hamstring strain.
And although Cuellar took his place in the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City last week, Bramble is almost certain to be in the squad set to face his former club Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light next weekend.
O’Neill has been impressed by the quality of the 31-year-old, currently in the last year of his contract, and believes he has the potential to be an asset yet for some time to come.
He says the challenge is ensuring Bramble doesn’t continue picking up niggling injuries.
“Titus’s problems are always about staying fit,” he pointed out.
“It is always a balancing act with Titus in training during the week – we have to get as much training into him without aggravating any injuries or risking swelling of the knees.
“It’s a shame because you can see just how good he could have been had it not been for the injuries but he still has a lot to offer.
“He’s bigger and stronger than he looks too. From a distance or on television you’d think he’d be 5ft 11ins but he’s actually a big player and he won’t get out-muscled by anyone.”
O’Neill believes that those injuries certainly don’t have to be end of a player who has already shown this season that he has plenty in the tank and the manager hopes to make the most of it.
After making his bow in the 2-0 win over Morecambe, Bramble played in the games against Liverpool and West Ham and was outstanding as Sunderland recorded their first league victory with the 1-0 win over Wigan.
That did not stop O’Neill reverting to first-choice Carlos Cuellar for the Manchester City game as soon as the ex-Villan was fit – a decision brought into question when it was the Spaniard’s foul which allowed City to grab an early goal.
But O’Neill is a big admirer of Cuellar and is delighted to have some strength in depth in the central defensive positions where John O’Shea and Matt Kilgallon – faultless in his first run-out of the season against MK Dons – are also contesting places.
He said: “We’ve seen at the start of the season how good a player Carlos is capable of being and what really pleases me is how much he has bought into the move to Sunderland.
“There are positions now at the club where we have genuine competition for places and that’s what you really need because your whole squad is going to be tested across the course of the campaign.”