Bruce backs youth in first derby
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce will put his faith in youth once again as he attempts to launch his Tyne-Wear derby campaign with a victory. Geordie-born Bruce has never even watched the local rivals lock horns before, but will have one of the best seats in the house at St James' Park on Sunday when the Magpies and the Black Cats head into battle for the first time in his reign. Sunderland will arrive on Tyneside on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, with five draws sandwiched in between home victories over Manchester City and Aston Villa, and having recorded clean sheets in each of their last three games. That achievement is all the more impressive because of the age profile of Bruce's team. Of the 11 men who took the field against Villa last Saturday, only one - Steed Malbranque - was aged 30 or above with the average a little more than 24, while the likes of Lee Cattermole, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and Ahmed Elmohamady are younger than that. That is the result of a deliberate policy which has been backed fully by chairman Niall Quinn. Bruce said: "Certainly what we have got is a young, hungry, aggressive team which can only get better. "As I look through the midfield four, for example, Welbeck is 19, Cattermole is 22, Henderson is 20, Elmohamady is 23, so they are all just learning their trade. "But that's what we wanted, that's what I wanted and Niall has backed me on that. "We wanted a really, really young, energetic team to take the club forward." Bruce freely acknowledges that fielding such a young side can have its drawbacks, but he does also have experience at his disposal. Former Holland international Bolo Zenden, 34, and 27-year-old Ghana skipper John Mensah were used as substitutes at the weekend, along with record signing Asamoah Gyan, who was this week shortlisted for FIFA's Ballon d'Or award. In addition, Britain's most expensive keeper, Craig Gordon, and Paraguay internationals Paulo da Silva and Cristian Riveros, who like Mensah and Gyan played in the World Cup quarter-finals this summer, were left sitting on the bench alongside Anton Ferdinand. Bruce said: "I have Craig Gordon, who is a very, very good goalkeeper, and four players who played in the World Cup quarter-finals sitting behind me. "That shows you the strength in depth we have managed to attract over the last 12, 15 months, and it bodes well." Bruce will hope for a further boost ahead of Sunday's game with first-choice left-back Kieran Richardson back in training after a hamstring injury. The 26-year-old has been out of action since the end of September and suffered a setback in training last week, but could be fit for the weekend. Bruce said: "I might have a decision to make if Kieran comes through the week successfully. "He might not have played much recently but he has the pace and movement to cause problems to any side." Richardson wrote himself into derby folklore two seasons ago when his bullet free-kick handed Sunderland a first home victory over their closest rivals in 28 years.
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