WES BROWN is being pushed on the training field to gauge whether he is fit enough to be in contention for a stunning return in the Wear-Tyne derby.
The former England international has not made a competitive appearance for almost two years after a harrowing period on the treatment table began with a knee injury against Middlesbrough in January 2012.
But Brown successfully completed 90 minutes in Sunderland Under-21s’ 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Saturday and is now under serious consideration as an option to boost a defence that has conceded 20 goals in just eight Premier League games.
Head coach Gus Poyet realises that Brown must feel he is ready to return to the fold in Sunday’s pivotal game after such a lengthy spell out of action.
But Poyet’s coaching staff are testing the 34-year-old, who impressed for Sunderland during pre-season in Hong Kong, to see whether he can physically cope with the demands of the Premier League.
Poyet said: “He’s been much better.
“I will look at him today and see if he’s recovered from yesterday’s session.
“We’ve got to a point with Wes where we’ve been very open.
“We’ve said ‘now we’re going to really force it and push it’.
“But we will analyse it together.
“It’s not like I’m just going to say ‘Go on Wes, go on the pitch, all the best, see you later’.
“I will talk to him and analyse his fitness.”
Poyet was unable to tighten up Sunderland’s defence in his opening game in charge at Swansea last weekend after the Black Cats shipped another four at the Liberty Stadium.
The Uruguayan had been eager to name a consistent back-line after deploying the fifth defensive combination Sunderland have used in just eight top flight outings.
But Sunderland’s continued defensive fragilities are likely to make Poyet think again and he has no doubts about Brown’s capabilities if he is to take the gamble on the ex-Manchester United man.
“I know he hasn’t played for a long time, but he’s experienced and knows the game,” added Poyet.
“If he does play, it needs to be the right decision for everybody.
“We need to see how he gets through the whole week.”