STEVE Bruce says he is relishing the prospect of playing his “best team” in the weeks ahead after Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, John Mensah and Danny Welbeck all sparkled at Wembley.
And on a night when Fraizer Campbell also made a goalscoring appearance for the reserves and emerging keeper Simon Mignolet continued his introduction to the Belgian senior squad with a 4-1 win over Azerbaijan, the manager’s enthusiasm was understandable.
Bruce, left, told the Echo: “I know we’re not on a great run at the moment and I know the quality of the opposition we’ve faced over the last few weeks explains that – with us going up against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs.
“But I do feel a little bit frustrated that I’ve not been able to play what I would call my best team yet this season.
“What I’m hoping, though, is that in the last few weeks of the season I’ll get that luxury, because I know that when we’re back to full strength we’ll do some damage.”
Sunderland have been without Fraizer Campbell’s services since he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in August, Michael Turner has been absent since early November and Lee Cattermole since mid-December.
There have also been injuries to Danny Welbeck, Bolo Zenden and Nedum Onuoha, but the injury list is now easing, just at a time when Sunderland are hoping players are finding a new lease of life.
The manager added: “We brought Stephane Sessegnon and Sulley Muntari in during the January transfer window and they’ll get better and better as they adjust.
“Unfortunately, they haven’t been helped by the absence of some important players for us.
“But the return of the likes of Welbeck, Zenden, Onuoha and Cattermole will give everyone a boost and improve the games of the players already in the team.
“You watch Fraizer Campbell for example, bouncing and sprinting around the pitch now and you realise what you’ve missed all season.
“When you’ve got a player of his pace and eagerness to add to a squad it makes a difference and if we’re getting to the stage where I can finally look at picking close to what I consider my best team, my best squad, then I’d fancy us to give anyone a game on the day.”