The Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is backing his captain Lorik Cana to bounce back from a tough winter.
The 26-year-old Albania international, a £5m summer signing from Marseilles, was a revelation at the start of the campaign as he and Lee Cattermole teamed up in a formidable central midfield partnership.
However, with Cattermole sidelined by a knee injury, Cana by his own admission found the relentless nature of the Premier League a drain on his physical resources.
Bruce admits in an ideal world, he might have handed the man he appointed captain a mid-season break. But with the Black Cats now facing a real battle to stave off the spectre of relegation – they sit just three points clear of the drop zone after a run of 14 league games without a win – Bruce is confident Cana is ready to bring his influence to bear once again. "It's fair to say that if I had people available and fit, he could have done with a break from it," Bruce said. "He is used to having a month off at Christmas. He had a wonderful start, but he has found the Premier League now for what it is. It is so demanding and so tough, but make no mistake, he will be all right.
"There have been times when I would liked to have freshened him up a little bit and given him the weekend off, but it's not been possible."
Bruce is hoping to have injured midfielders Andy Reid and Jordan Henderson back after injury sooner rather than later – he was predicting 10 days at the end of last week – and that would come as a further boost.
Striker Fraizer Campbell has played on the right side of midfield in the last two games with Steed Malbranque, the subject of rumours of a fall-out with Bruce, not even included in the 18 for Saturday's 0-0 draw with Fulham.Reuse content