SUNDERLAND will start their pre-season programme this week unsure of their first-choice goalkeeper, with Steve Bruce adamant he had no choice but to make the competition perhaps unmanageably fierce.
Keiren Westwood joined from Coventry City on a free transfer this summer, with Simon Mignolet and Craig Gordon already in situ.
If the Republic of Ireland international was expecting to automatically be named No.1, Black Cats boss Bruce says that will not be the case.
Instead he will allow Westwood and Belgian Mignolet to fight it out in the pre-season friendlies, which begin at York City tomorrow.
Gordon will sit out the period as he recovers from a knee operation earlier this year.
Bruce expects him to be fit again in late August.
If Britain’s most expensive goalkeeper has not found a new club by then, Bruce may find he has too many keepers to keep them all happy.
”I’ve signed Keiren to bring in competition and we saw what happened last year with Craig – I don’t think he’s going to be ready until the end of August at last,” Bruce said.
“Pre-season will decide (who starts as first choice) but to be fair to big Simon, he’s done nothing wrong.
“But you need really good competition, and that’s what pre-season’s for, to decide who I’m going to choose and who I’m going to go with.”
Gordon has been dogged by injury problems since moving from Hearts for £9m in 2007. His contract expires at the end of the coming season.
The club had been due to open talks with the Scotland international in May, but decided they could not take the risk with his fitness again in doubt.
Losing him for a free transfer in 12 months was judged to be less of a gamble than putting the 28-year-old on a long contract, which may not offer value for money.
While it is far from ideal having invested so much in the player, Bruce felt he had little choice under the circumstances.
“The situation with Craig is he’s got one year left on his contract,” he explained. “The big thing for Craig is to get him fit, that’s the most important thing, to get him back on the pitch again.
“Then let’s deal with the problem, rather than panicking on a problem.
“It wouldn’t be healthy if I hadn’t brought a goalkeeper in with Craig missing the start of the season.
“What happened last year put us in a real, real mess for a while.
“Simon did really well but it wasn’t a healthy situation to be in. We’ve made sure we’ve done something about that.”
Mignolet joined from his hometown club Sint-Truiden a year ago, and had a promising debut campaign in the Premier League leading to his elevation to international football.
But like Gordon, he sometimes lacks the commanding presence the very best top-flight goalkeepers have in their penalty areas.
Arsenal and Celtic are among the clubs to be linked with Gordon. Bhoys manager Neil Lennon admitted at the weekend his club’s interest was genuine, but cast doubt on whether it could come to anything.
“He’s a good keeper but whether we could afford him or not is another thing,” Lennon said.
“He certainly fits the bill for the type of keeper we’re looking for.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland look set to miss out on Danny Welbeck after the striker was told by Sir Alex Ferguson that he wouldn’t be leaving Manchester United.
The Black Cats remain keen on the England forward but Sir Alex is determined to keep him at Old Trafford next term.
Welbeck is keen to play regular first-team football.