Bruce could turn to Noble
TEENAGE hot-shot Ryan Noble has been put on first team alert by manager Steve Bruce in the hope the Academy graduate can solve Sunderland's striker crisis for the rest of the season. Noble shrugged off a jarred knee that kept him out of contention for last Saturday's defeat to Fulham by scoring two goals in a reserves' outing against Preston North End yesterday. The 19-year-old's brace in the 5-3 victory means he has now scored 11 goals in 11 second-string appearances, continuing in the sort of form that earned him 12 goals in nine outings last time around. Bruce is desperate for improved options in the final third, having been forced to start with attacking midfielder Stephane Sessegnon as a makeshift lone striker against Fulham. In the absence of Fraizer Campbell, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck, who are all likely to be absent for the remaining three matches of the season, Sunderland are having to consider all alternatives. The impressive form of Noble, who Bruce would prefer to hold back a little longer, has reminded his manager that he is hungry for a chance to shine. The 19-year-old and his attacking side-kick for the reserves, Craig Lynch, who made his first team debut as a late substitute against Fulham, are both set to be involved in the squad at Bolton on Saturday. Bruce has shown a reluctance to pit his promising young strikers on to the top-flight stage, but injuries are strengthening the chances of him changing his mind. Noble made his Sunderland debut in the FA Cup win over Barrow last season, while he was used as a sub in the trips at Everton and Birmingham. But his tendency to keep scoring goals has kept him in the frame, along with Lynch, who also scored in the win over Preston yesterday along with Matthew Fletcher and Billy Fletcher. Sunderland's triumph in the Tote Cup semi-final has sealed a place in the final, which will take place at the start of next season, and trialists Jason Benton and Roarie Deacon also figured for Keith Bertschin's side. There was also another appearance for keeper Trevor Carson, who continues to deputise for Simon Mignolet in the absence of Craig Gordon. It emerged yesterday from north of the border that Scotland manager Craig Levein is in no rush for Gordon to return to the international stage, having been impressed by the form of Rangers' Allan McGregor during his absence. Gordon will miss the next six months after knee surgery, meaning he will not play in Scotland's European Championships double header with Czech Republic and Lithuania. But having only been able to start with Gordon in one match this season, Levein would rather the former Hearts man took his time to get back to full fitness. Scotland are keen to have him involved at Euro 2012, but they have told Sunderland they will not risk his long term fitness by calling him up prematurely. "I will stress that if Craig has not returned to full fitness at his club then we would not take a chance on him for the double header," said Levein. "It is important that Sunderland have him back to full fitness and then we will assess his readiness to return to the international fold. "It is a big blow to Craig at what is the business end of the season but the knee problem has been troubling him for some time and he hasn't really felt 100 per cent, so it was best that he went ahead with the operation."
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