CARLOS CUELLAR insists he is back to peak condition after enduring a shaky return from injury at Manchester City.
Summer signing Cuellar experienced defeat in a Sunderland shirt for the first time in the 3-0 loss at the Etihad Stadium before the international break.
The 31-year-old was – perhaps surprisingly – recalled to the starting XI at the expense of stand-in Titus Bramble after missing Sunderland’s previous two games with a hamstring strain.
But Cuellar was far from the assured performer who had made such an impressive start to his Sunderland career, poleaxing Carlos Tevez within the opening five minutes before Aleksander Kolarov scored from the subsequent free-kick.
Cuellar has used the international hiatus to boost his fitness though and says he is ready to make his derby debut in Sunday’s clash with Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light (1.30pm kick-off).
“This is a good opportunity for me, it’s a derby game,” said the Spaniard.
“The City game was the first one I played after my injury, but now I’ve had a bit more time to prepare and I feel great.
“I’ve got my fitness levels back and we were very disappointed at Manchester City because after five minutes we were behind to a free-kick goal.
“But, even so, we can take confidence from it because we hung in there, we were good and we were strong.
“We have already showed how good we are defensively and how good we are attacking.
“We’ve had the opportunity to have a break, to relax and prepare for the game on Sunday.”
Sunderland had enjoyed a five-game unbeaten start to the season before being humbled by the Premier League champions.
But Cuellar doesn’t believe the defeat will have significantly damaged Sunderland’s confidence in the build-up to this weekend’s tussle.
The former Aston Villa man added: “You have to learn from your mistakes, but in Spain we say you cannot take your skin off just because you make a mistake or lose a game.
“I think the confidence in the team is very high.
“When you lose everyone is unhappy, but if you look at the table and you look at the games we have played before that, you don’t have to be scared or lose any confidence because I think the team is doing very well.”