MARTIN O’NEILL believes deadline-day signings Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos will have a part to play in Sunderland’s season, despite barely featuring so far.
The on-loan defenders were brought in on the last day of the January transfer window to reinfore a back line that was creaking at the seams.
But with Phil Bardsley, John O’Shea, Michael Turner and Kieran Richardson in excellent form after coming through injuries, the new arrivals’ chances have been severely limited.
Manchester City full-back Bridge has seen only eight minutes of action and Wolfsburg centre-back Kyrgiakos none at all.
O’Neill, though, expects his new boys to make an important contribution, pointing out there is still a substantial chunk of the season remaining.
“They will play their part, absolutely,” said the Sunderland boss.
“We’ve still got a third of the season to go and I expect both Wayne and Sotirios to play a part during that time.
“They haven’t had much game time as yet – or any, in Kyrgiakos’s case – but the team has been doing fine recently and they understand that.”
Bridge’s cameo came the day after he signed, when he saw out the final few minutes of Sunderland’s 3-0 win over Norwich at the Stadium of Light, the former England international playing neat and nimble stuff which suggested he could prove a real asset.
Having been frozen out at City this season, that outing against Norwich was actually his first Premier League appearance of the campaign, but it was enough to suggest he is still a quality player.
O’Neill said: “I have spoken to Wayne and firstly it’s a matter of him getting used to the environment, and getting used to being involved again at first-team level. Secondly, it’s a case of him going in and making an impact.
“Considering he has only played one cup game for City this season, and that was back in August, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Wayne’s match fitness.
“But, obviously, the only time I will really know is when he comes into the side in match circumstances. I’ve every confidence he can do well for us.”
With centre-backs Titus Bramble, Wes Brown and Matt Kilgallon all injured, O’Neill brought in ex-Liverpool man Kyrgiakos as cover for his defensive pairing of John O’Shea and Michael Turner.
But O’Shea and Turner have played every minute since then and, with Kilgallon now making his way back to fitness, the Greek has a greater challenge than his fellow new signing.
O’Neill, though, is delighted that both men have given him extra options and insurance.
“When Kyrgiakos came in, we had problems in central defence,” O’Neill pointed out.
“Titus was ruled out for a fairly lengthy time, as was Wes, and I wasn’t sure how long Matt would be out for, so it was important to strengthen in that area.
“Bringing in Wayne also gave us another defensive option and it also meant that we could switch Kieran round, if needed,
“Kieran has done fine at left-back, but I’m sure he would like to play in midfield if possible.
“But I’ve been very happy with young Jack Colback, Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner and David Vaughan in those roles.
“So I suppose, for the first time since I have been here, we are looking a wee bit more healthy in terms of the squad and the fact that the loan lads have come in has helped that.”