STEVE Bruce admits the condition of Titus Bramble and Michael Turner has produced his main selection headache ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League opener.
The central defensive pair came through Sunderland’s pre-season campaign unscathed, with each boasting five appearances to their name after missing much of the second half of last year through knee injuries.
But both looked understandably rusty during Sunderland’s friendly schedule, with Bruce hinting at his team selection for tomorrow’s trip to Liverpool by naming Anton Ferdinand alongside Wes Brown in the final pre-season encounter at Hibernian last weekend.
With John O’Shea ruled out of the Anfield clash through injury, Bruce has been keen to have last season’s first-choice central defensive duo at his disposal.
But the Sunderland boss insists Turner and Bramble’s precarious fitness must come into his thinking as he ponders his defensive options.
Bruce said: “The big thing for Titus and Michael was to get through pre-season and they are the biggest concern I’ve got at the moment. They’re both huge, big lads and they need to train, play and work, work, work to get back to their best.
“Both of them have been out for the best part of six months, which is serious stuff.
“It’s going to take them more than six weeks of pre-season to fully recover. But they’re getting there. We know what they’re good at and capable of, so we’ll see.
“The big thing I’ve got to do is consider who is medically right and who is ready to go.
“I’ve already made that decision in my mind, but I’ll confirm it today.
“We’ve got lots of people chomping at the bit and competition is healthy.”
Other than long-term injury victims David Meyler, Fraizer Campbell and Craig Gordon, O’Shea is the sole absentee tomorrow as he makes his way back from the hamstring strain suffered during Sunderland’s tour of Germany.
Kieran Richardson has recovered from the slight groin strain suffered at Hibs, while Asamoah Gyan is expected to start up front, despite struggling for fitness during pre-season.
The loss of O’Shea is still a significant blow, although the 30-year-old does have a chance of featuring against Newcastle on Saturday week after returning to training.
“It was such a fluke accident with what happened in Germany with John,” added Bruce.
“But these things happen. It’s unfortunate, but we don’t think it’s too serious. He should have a chance for the derby. He’s up and playing a part in training.
“With all the players we have got at the moment, there is no need to rush anyone back before they are ready. We have got a fully-fit squad to pick from, which is terrific.”