SANTIAGO Vergini can expect the toughest of tests against Manchester City tonight, on a ground that has become a graveyard for defenders this season.
But Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet says he has no qualms about handing the Argentine centre-half his full debut against comfortably the most prolific side in the Premier League.
He told the Echo: “It will be as tough a first full game as Santiago could have had in English football, that’s for sure.
“But I have no worries about it.
“You assess the player and you decide whether he is ready, where he can handle it, and I’m sure Santiago can. I handed Liam Bridcutt a debut against Newcastle United and he did very well.
“It doesn’t get any more intimidating than an away derby and although Manchester City is a massive challenge for us I know Santiago will be looking forward to it. I feel that I can rely on any of the players in the group.
“I watched Vergini a lot before he came here, so I know what he can do.”
The 25-year-old made his Premier League bow at the weekend after Wes Brown was red-carded just three minutes into the home game against Hull City.
And with the former Manchester United defender tonight serving the first game of a two-match suspension, Vergini, a January signing, on loan from Argentine side Estudiantes for the rest of the season, will be asked to fill the void from the start.
“I thought Santiago did well in testing circumstances,” said Poyet.
“He is still learning the language and the English game but I was very happy with how he performed, it was more than OK.
“There was one moment, at the very beginning where Nikica Jelavic knocked him about five yards off the ball - in Argentina, that’s a foul; in England: nothing.
“But he learned from that, thought: “OK welcome to England, Santiago” and he got on with it.
“One of the things I like about him is that he is an adaptable player and he will be looking forward to the job he faces tonight.”
Title-chasing City have netted 68 times this season and are particularly formidable at home.
Although Chelsea prevented Manuel Pellegrini’s men from scoring at the Etihad Stadium for the first time this season in thelr last run out, City were scoring more than four goals a league game on average before that.
The Chelsea game was the first time City had failed to score at home all season and the blank they drew against Norwich City on Saturday meant it was the first they have not scored in back-to-back games in more than two years.
The Manchester outfit will be out to ensure normal service is resumed this evening but Poyet said: “Both sides have their ambitions - with City it is to get back to winning ways and scoring plenty of goals; with us it is to put that Hull City result behind us and move on.
“We have to be strong mentally as well as physically and make sure we are competitive against one of the best sides around.”