Gus Poyet has challenged Santiago Vergini to elbow Wes Brown out of the Capital One Cup final.
The January signing will make his full Premier League debut at the Etihad tonight in place of the suspended Brown and faces the daunting task of keeping out a Manchester City team that have scored more than 100 goals this season and are gunning for a second title in three seasons.
But Poyet is confident that Vergini, who made a steady introduction to the top flight on Saturday alongside John O’Shea, is ready to make his mark in England.
There couldn’t be more riding on it for the Argentinian, who has been promised a place in the Cup final if he posts the sort of performances that persuaded Poyet to take a chance on him in January.
Poyet said: “He has to hit the ground running, but it is the best way, especially with the mentality he’s got. I brought him in and I’m convinced he’s going to be all right. It’s a nice game for us to find out! There’s a nice pitch and nice opposition.
“At least there’s going to be no Aguero. But I’m relaxed about him and I’m not bothered about that side of things.”
Poyet thinks that his January capture has all the attributes to seriously challenge O’Shea and Brown’s partnership, which has been not only the first-choice pairing for the Black Cats this season but also the only realistic options available to the Sunderland boss.
Carlos Cuellar has spent long periods on the sidelines, while Mo Diakite – now back in Italy – and Valentin Roberge have failed to impress. “The idea was really to challenge John and Wes,” Poyet explained.
“Wes has been outstanding and what he did in the Hull game I would probably have done as well. I’m not going to criticise him because he made a decision to tackle. The ball was there, and then it was not there.
“It’s a challenge for Vergini, depending on his performance and his result and how we do, it gives me options. It happened similarly to Vito (Mannone), although that was through an injury.”
Even if a Cup final place doesn’t come, there is the opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of a possible summer signing. Poyet is understood to have earmarked both Vergini and Nacho Scocco, who may make his bow at the Etihad, for close-season moves if everything goes to plan.
He said: “That is perfection when you bring a player from abroad. It’s not always possible, but depending on the qualities, if you have the opportunity to bring someone in for six months and you can see how they’ve done, it’s perfection.
“Sometimes, it’s not possible and you need to sign them, but it’s a great opportunity and one way or the other he will show us what he can do.”
Meanwhile, Poyet expects Steven Fletcher to return to training next week.
He said: “He’s getting better. I’m looking forward to seeing him. He will start moving outside next week. He’s got a little chance against Arsenal, a bigger chance for the final.
“I want him back as soon as possible not only because we need him but because of the games we’ve got to play before the final as well. I don’t want him to just go into the last days (of rehab) just to be in the final. I don’t know about Achilles – if you want to talk about knees, I’m an expert. Achilles? No.
“People who have had Achilles tendon have told me they’re quite tricky. When you think you’re right and it’s OK, it comes back so we will manage it properly.”