SUNDERLAND will move up a gear in their pre-season preparations tonight, with several players braced to complete their first 90 minutes.
Black Cats boss Gus Poyet has eased his squad into the friendly programme so far this summer, with no-one lasting the duration of the opening three warm-up games.
Poyet played a different XI in each half for the first friendly against Darlington 1883 10 days ago, while two sides largely composed of first-teamers played an hour against Carlisle and Hartlepool United before the Under-21s were introduced in the final 30 minutes.
But with a squad of just 20 – including three goalkeepers – travelling here to Portugal, Poyet has not got that luxury for tonight’s encounter against Spanish Second Division outfit Recreativo de Huelva and tomorrow’s clash with Portugese top flight side CD Nacional.
Poyet said: “I have mixed things up in the three games so far, but now we’re here in Portugal, I will start to play players for 90 minutes.
“I’ve not taken everybody, some have stayed behind, so there will not be the numbers to play two teams.
“I’m not sure about the first game against Recreativo – it will be a gradual thing – but by the end of the trip the players will be playing for 90 minutes.”
One player pencilled in to have a limited involvement tonight is midfielder Liam Bridcutt, who missed the opening three friendlies through injury.
But Bridcutt has played a full part in Sunderland’s training sessions in the Algarve after flying out with the rest of the squad on Friday and he is expected to play 45 minutes tonight.
“The first three games came too soon for Liam, but he has been training over the last few days,” added Poyet.
“We’re hoping he can play 45 minutes tonight because he needs to splay some games.”
New signing Patrick van Aanholt is also expected to make his first Sunderland appearance tonight after arriving in Portugal on Saturday.