STEVE BRUCE insists his current squad is the “best” at his disposal since he became Sunderland manager.
The 50-year-old took control at the Stadium of Light in June 2009, and has led the Black Cats to 13th and 10th-place finishes in the Premier League.
Both campaigns, however, have seen the team’s form deteriorate in their later stages.
As a result, Bruce launched a comprehensive overhaul of his playing staff during the summer, making 10 new signings and allowing a host of players to depart.
And while they have started the season slowly, having only begun to show first signs of gelling in Sunday’s 4-0 home win over Stoke City, Bruce is adamant he now has a group superior to any in his time on Wearside.
“This is easily the best squad I’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “They’re a delightful bunch to work with. We’ve got good competition for places.
“We have a group which hopefully we can keep hold of and have some stability over the next two to three years, which will be vital.”
Such is the depth of that competition for places that Bruce was able to remove the out-of-form Lee Cattermole – along with Jack Colback – from
Sunday’s starting line-up. And while full of praise for Cattermole’s replacement, David Vaughan, the Sunderland boss has defended his captain, and urged his critics to remain patient with the combative midfielder.
“I’m paid to make big decisions and Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback can feel hard done by because they have both contributed in their own way,” Bruce said.
“Vaughany keeps us ticking over in the middle of the pitch. He keeps the ball very, very well as we saw when he was with Blackpool last year.
“Against Stoke I knew that would be vitally important. He had a very good debut.”
And Bruce added: “Lee Cattermole is one who has been in and out and had two or three serious injuries.
“I am a big believer, and I have been in it a long, long time, that you don’t really get that back until you have been back as long as you have been out.
“It’s normal. It’s because they have had serious injuries which take them time (to recover from). The more they train and they play, they get better and better.
“They need games, and Lee certainly comes into that category.
“Nobody epitomises what I like about a footballer more than my captain, but at the moment, it’s not going too well for him, so we gave somebody else a go in David Vaughan.
“He brought that little bit of composure we were looking for and had a wonderful debut.”
Meanwhile, Asamoah Gyan has once again defended his decision to join Abu Dhabi outfit Al-Ain on loan, insisting he was motivated not by money but by family reasons, and remains on good terms with manager Bruce.
“I did not have any problem with Steve Bruce,” Gyan said. “He is a great coach and he has always supported me.
“People say I moved because of money. You need to be happy, although I’m not saying I wasn’t happy at Sunderland or that I wasn’t happy in the Premier League.
“I had to decide with my family and everything and they were all right with my decision, so I had to just move.
“It helped myself and Sunderland as well.
“Everyone was happy with the loan, and to be honest if Sunderland were not happy as well they could have not loaned me because I have a contract with them.
“I think the three parties were happy to do the deal.”