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Sunderland V Fulham at Stadium of Light : Match Preview
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was left to reflect upon how quickly things can change in football as he watched England beat world champions Spain.
Fabio Capello's men won 1-0 at Wembley on Saturday with Darren Bent spearheading his attack and Danny Welbeck taking over when he was replaced midway through the second half. Twelve months ago, the pair were part of a quartet of strikers at the Stadium of Light - Asamoah Gyan and Fraizer Campbell were the others - which Bruce rated as perhaps the best the Black Cats had ever had.
However, Bruce will head into their Barclays Premier League clash with Fulham with none of the four available to him after Bent's departure for Aston Villa in January, Welbeck's return to parent club Manchester United, Gyan's loan move to the United Arab Emirates and Campbell's latest bout of injury misery.
The manager said: "As I sat and watched England at the weekend, our two centre-forwards this time last year were Welbeck and Bent. "To lose that talent and replace them is going to take some time and some doing, but gradually we are getting there.
"That's football, isn't it? That's sometimes what happens." Welbeck in particular has built upon his season in the north-east to establish himself as a genuine first-team player at United having done so well at Sunderland that Bruce knew his hopes of securing a second temporary move were forlorn.
Having already lost Bent, he invested heavily in Ipswich teenager Connor Wickham and brought South Korea international Ji Dong-won to England before securing Arsenal frontman Nicklas Bendtner on loan as Gyan's itchy feet carried him to the Middle East.
However, a knee ligament problem which will sideline Wickham for weeks rather than months, and the after-effects Ji's international jet-setting, have depleted Bruce's resources once again. He said: "With Welbeck, we knew how well he was doing and there was no chance of us retaining him. We knew that, if we are being honest. "Yes, they are going to take some replacing, but Connor was starting to grow into it, and certainly Nicklas has benefited from coming to Sunderland.
"I think he has got five in five for his international team since he has come to Sunderland. "I spoke to [Denmark boss] Morten Olsen [on Thursday] and he was delighted with his performances, and I have to say, so am I for us. He's done terrifically well, so let's hope he keeps doing that." Nineteen-year-old Ryan Noble thrust himself forward with a hat-trick in the reserves' 3-0 derby win over Newcastle on Wednesday night, and Bruce admitted he could be involved.
He said: "The kid, physically, has still got a long way to go. He took his top off the other day and he was still like a little boy, bless him. "But we have got a few injuries and he might be involved." Bruce will be without the suspended Sebastian Larsson while Titus Bramble, who has returned to the fold after accepting a charge of bringing the club into disrepute, missed out on a reserve team outing in midweek because of a knee problem.
Fulham head to Sunderland with both teams hovering just a single point above the drop zone in the Premier League. Their involvement in the Europa League means the Cottagers will be playing their 25th game of the season. Sunderland, by contrast, have played just 12 but manager Martin Jol is confident his side can get a positive result at the Stadium of Light. "Sunderland are in a similar position to us," he said. "So it's an important game for us and a very important game for them.
"They are pretty strong at home but over the last couple of games we have done well away from home so we will do everything to get the points on the board." Jol will be without defender Stephen Kelly, who suffered a groin injury on Republic of Ireland duty, while midfielder Steven Sidwell is unlikely to play as he recovers from a minor hernia operation.
Sunderland V Fulham - view commentary, squad, and statictics of the game live.
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