Sunderland boss Steve Bruce will not be convinced Wayne Rooney is not turning out against his team on Saturday until he sees the Manchester United teamsheet.
The 24-year-old England international was left out of the squad for last night's 1-0 Champions League victory in Valencia with manager Sir Alex Ferguson having indicated he would be sidelined for three weeks with an ankle problem.
However, Rooney has been struggling for form this season after a disappointing World Cup and has found himself the subject of lurid tabloid headlines, and there is a school of thought which suggests the lay-off could be as much for psychological as physical reasons.
However, former United star Bruce knows Ferguson well from his days at Old Trafford and would not be surprised in the slightest if Rooney ran out at the Stadium of Light this weekend.
He said: "Is he out for three weeks, Wayne Rooney? I don't know if he is.
"I don't know if he is or whether Sir Alex is playing one of his games.
"But make no mistake, there is one person who will look after Wayne Rooney better than anyone else, and that is Sir Alex, and I am sure he will do.
"It's been a tough time for the kid, we all realise that, and possibly the reason for what happened at the World Cup, if we are honest.
"But make no mistake, he is a fabulous player and a strong mental character, and he will need that at the moment."
The Black Cats will head into the game having already beaten United's city rivals on Wearside and with creditable draws against Arsenal and Liverpool in their last two Barclays Premier League outings.
They returned from Anfield last weekend with a 2-2 draw but bemoaning three key decisions by referee Stuart Attwell, who allowed Dirk Kuyt's controversial opening goal but then spared Steven Gerrard a red card and denied the visitors a penalty - all wrongly, in Bruce's opinion.
The Sunderland boss has spoken to referees' chief Mike Riley this week, but is keeping what was said to himself.
Bruce said: "We have got to make sure we are not just coming out and lambasting people.
"Believe it or not, I don't enjoy doing it at all, but you do get frustrated.
"Those three decisions ultimately could have cost us the result last week, or maybe stopped us from getting a win, which then stops me doing my job properly.
"That's the frustration of it. The three last week were horrific."
Sunderland have also been in touch with Scotland boss Craig Levein this week over keeper Craig Gordon, who was today included in the squad for next month's Euro 2012 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Spain after just a week back in training following a his recovery from a fractured arm.
Bruce's assistant, Eric Black, called Levein to clarify their stance over the £9million man, who they believe is not yet ready to play.
The former Birmingham and Wigan boss said: "There was this report that I didn't want him to go, which was nonsense, I have got no problem with him going.
"I think it is still a bit early for Craig to be contemplating playing, but to be part of the squad, I have got no problem with him going and joining up. I am okay with that."
Gordon's fitness means he is ready to challenge stand-in Simon Mignolet for the number one spot once again, but he is unlikely to displace him this weekend.
Bruce said: "Mignolet has been magnificent, so I have got one of those decisions at the weekend that as a manager, you hope you get right.
"For a kid who was playing in the first division in Belgium, he has done magnificently well, which we are all delighted about."Reuse content