THREE MONTHS ago, the prospect of Wes Brown playing even a single minute of competitive action seemed far-fetched.
On Tuesday night, he completed 120 of them in yet another towering display as Sunderland sent Chelsea crashing out of the Capital One Cup.
Coming through extra-time against the Blues unscathed was a mark of the stunning reversal in Brown’s fortunes since suffering yet another injury setback during pre-season.
After returning to the fold at Hull City last month, Brown has been an ever-present fixture in Gus Poyet’s central defence, apart from the hour at Stoke City when he was ludicrously dismissed by referee Kevin Friend.
Far from needing to be rested for cup ties and protected for the relegation battle, Brown continues to prove that he can last the rigours of front-line football again.
But central defensive partner John O’Shea has not been surprised that Brown has been able to last the pace and just hopes his former Manchester United colleague can remain fully fit to help the Black Cats in the relegation scrap.
O’Shea told the Echo: “The boys were laughing at him after the Chelsea game saying he should be fresh as a daisy after so long out!
“But, look, if he stays fit, we’ve got a much better chance, that’s for sure.
“He’s not surprised me at all.
“I know how hard he worked to get himself back fit.
“Luck has been on his side at least to stay away from those little niggles.
“Hopefully that will continue.”
While Brown again impressed against Chelsea in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup victory, it was two substitutes who proved crucial in sending Sunderland through to the semi-finals.
Ki Sung-Yueng and Fabio Borini both found the net, with the duo expected to be restored to the starting XI against Norwich City tomorrow.
O’Shea believes the on loan pair have set an example for the rest of the squad of the contributions needed to beat the drop.
The Sunderland captain said: “The reaction from the substitutes was fantastic.
“That’s what’s needed.
“The manager’s trying to stress to all the lads that it’s difficult for him to pick the team now because people are performing in training.
“You need those difficult decisions and players have to understand that when they’re called upon, they have to perform.”
O’Shea knows Sunderland realistically need to emerge victorious tomorrow against a Norwich side boasting the worst defensive record away from home in the Premier League.
Failure to take all three points would leave the bottom club facing an ever more ominous task to get the points needed to beat the drop.
“The performances have been coming, I think – the away games at Aston Villa and West Ham, where it was disappointing we didn’t pick up maximum points,” added the 32-year-old.
“But the game against Norwich is crucial and we need to get a win.
“It’s going to be difficult. I know Chrissy Hughton (Norwich boss and O’Shea’s former Republic of Ireland assistant manager) quite well and how his team is organised. They’ve got individuals that can hurt you.”