STEVE Bruce believes a week’s extra recovery time outweighs the loss of Sunderland’s feelgood factor.
Sunderland received a timely confidence boost in their last Premier League outing with a goalless draw at second-top Arsenal.
Ordinarily, Black Cats boss Bruce would have been frustrated his side lost the momentum from that game by having to wait a fortnight until Sunday’s visit of Liverpool.
But the extra time has allowed Sunderland’s walking wounded more time to build up their fitness, with Lee Cattermole, Nedum Onuoha, Danny Welbeck and Bolo Zenden all in contention to start against Kenny Dalglish’s side.
All four were able to play in a behind-closed-doors game at the Academy of Light on Saturday, with Cattermole (back), Onuoha and Zenden (both calf) missing the trip to the Emirates while Welbeck made his first appearance in two months following knee and hamstring problems.
Fraizer Campbell is also in contention to be included in the squad to face Liverpool after six months out with cruciate knee ligament damage.
“If I had had everybody fit, I would have been jumping up and down because on the back of a good result you want to play again,” said Bruce.
“But the good thing for us is to see Welbeck, Campbell, Zenden and Onuoha all back in training, with Cattermole also joining in over the weekend.
“All of a sudden, with five of our big players back in the mix, it gives the squad a lift after being down to the bare bones, which we have been for two or three months.
“I’ve had 13 or 14 to choose from rather than 23 and that is not a good situation to be in.
“The biggest thing I’ve got is competition and when you detect fatigue, for example – and let’s be fair, all players get fatigued from time to time – the best weapon you can have is somebody in reserve to come in and do the job.
“It will give everybody a lift that we can see the full squad back training and healthy again just at the right time of the season.”
Bruce will adopt a cautious approach with Cattermole and Campbell, though, who are both expected to feature in tomorrow’s reserve clash at Manchester United.
Neither have played in 2011 and Sunderland’s trip to Manchester City on Sunday, April 3, after the international break is a more likely date for the duo to be in contention for a starting spot.
“This season we finish on May 22, and we are probably going to be back about July 4,” added Bruce.
“That gives you a total of just shy of five-and-a-half weeks off.
“When we have the players off for that length of time, we bring them back for six weeks pre-season training with something like seven games in that period to get them as well prepared as we can for the start of the season.
“So you can imagine how difficult it is for the likes of Cattermole, Campbell and Welbeck when they have been out for two, three, four, five or even six months.
“It is very difficult and you have to rely on doctors, medical people and sports scientists to tell us what we should be doing to get them fit and out on the pitch.”