STEVE Bruce believes Simon Mignolet is a top-class goalkeeper in the making, with the Belgian set to stay between the sticks during Craig Gordon’s injury rehabilitation.
First-choice stopper Gordon faces a month-long fitness programme to cure him of the knee tendon problem which has ruled him out of Sunderland’s last two games.
The Black Cats hope by completing a set of exercises and gym work, the £9million keeper will manage to avoid an operation on his knee.
But Gordon will not be risked in the starting XI with the injury hampering his mobility.
The Scot has been among the substitutes for Sunderland’s last two games and has watched Belgian stopper Mignolet impress.
Mignolet, signed from St Truiden for a bargain £2million last summer, was in outstanding form in the goalless draw at Arsenal last weekend, with seven of Sunderland’s 12 clean sheets this season coming when the 22-year-old has been in goal.
Boss Bruce said: “He’s got a big part to play in the future of the club – we’ve unearthed a very good young goalkeeper.
“It’s a big pat on the back to everybody who has helped get him here.
“The biggest compliment of all is to himself.
“He’s a fantastic goalkeeper, although we’re not surprised he’s done so well because we work with him every day.
“He’s brave, big and the potential is all there.
“He’s got the makings of a very good goalkeeper.”
Gordon flew to Sweden earlier this week to see world-renowned specialist Professor Hakan Alfredson.
The short-term diagnosis was positive with Alfredson devising a programme of exercises to strengthen the knee before Gordon returns to Scandinavia for a second assessment in a month.
But the 28-year-old may still need an operation in the long-term if the injury persists.
Bruce added: “He’s got to do certain exercises and gymnasium work for a month. He’s got his own programme.
“We’ll see how he goes in a month.
“He’s OK, but the operation could be in a month or six months.
“We’ll try to do our best and do what the specialist has advised over the next four weeks and then we’ll see.”
Sunderland have the option of bringing Trevor Carson back from his loan spell at League Two club Lincoln City if Gordon’s injury deteriorates with the Black Cats putting a recall clause in the deal which took the Northern Irish keeper to Sincil Bank.