Defenders provide timely boost for Cats

SUNDERLAND’S defensive resources will be boosted by the presence of three familiar faces in training today.

Dean Whitehead

SUNDERLAND’S defensive resources will be boosted by the presence of three familiar faces in training today.

Now manager Ricky Sbragia must weigh up whether to allow captain Dean Whitehead to leave his far bigger stable of midfielders. Paul McShane will be on the Academy of Light training pitch this morning after returning from a loan at Hull City. George McCartney and Phil Bardsley will also be there as they close in on full fitness.

But Hull boss Phil Brown revealed McShane’s return might not be the only transaction between the clubs if he gets his way.

“We have made an inquiry for Dean Whitehead (pictured),” he revealed.

“It is something we have been identifying in the past 18 months, players who can come in and strengthen the side and we need that even more now because of the injury to George Boateng.

“We have identified probably four or five players and Dean is one of them.” Brown has not given up on McShane resuming his Tigers career either, saying: “If we get him back will depend on Ricky Sbragia’s shopping list.”

Sbragia still hopes a defender will be among the “one or two” players he is looking to sign this month, despite ruling out moves for Tal Ben Haim and Paul

Scharner. Not since Boxing Day have the Black Cats had the luxury of leaving a defender out of their starting line-up – they only had three fit for the December 28 trip to Everton. But full-backs Bardsley and McCartney have been back in training this week.

Sbragia expects McCartney to quickly regain his match sharpness, despite having missed the previous 11 games, possibly even in time for the Tyne-Wear derby.

But he is anxious not to rush back the 27-year-old, who had surgery on his foot. “George is back in training and everything is going to plan,” he told the club’s official website. “He did the warm-up (on Tuesday) and seems happy enough. We’ve got to make sure he doesn’t try to do too much.”

The left-sider, who had problems with the soles of both feet, is aiming to return by early February.

Bardsley has not played since the 3-0 defeat at Everton because of flu.

If he can get up to speed in time for Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa, the Black Cats should have competition for places at the back for the first time in four matches.

Sbragia has also denied any interest in Plymouth Argyle’s £800,000-rated midfielder Craig Noone. And he has had a setback in his bid to bring another un-named defender to the Stadium of Light after the previously out-of-favour player returned to first-team action, impressed, and is no longer for sale.

Sunderland have confirmed Queens Park Rangers are looking at midfielder Liam Miller. The Londoners are also understood to be keen on Black Cats striker Daryl Murphy.

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