Roy Keane knows his players will have to pass another stern examination of their Premier League credentials at Blackburn tonight. Sunderland head for Ewood Park as Keane locks horns with his former Manchester United team-mate Mark Hughes having seen his team drag themselves out of the relegation zone with Saturday's hard-fought 3-1 win over Bolton.
Keane was delighted with the efforts of his defenders, who kept Nicolas Anelka at bay, although he knows they face an equally testing task against Roque Santa Cruz.
"They have got a centre-forward in unbelievable form," Keane said, "but every team you play in the Premier League has got top players. We played against Nicolas Anelka on Saturday and he has moved for about 75m in total. At the end of the day, that's what we are up against, top-quality players. My players are being tested every week."
Keane hopes to be able to welcome midfielder Dwight Yorke back after resting the 36-year-old for the Bolton game. He will also check on winger Ross Wallace, who missed out against Bolton having damaged a hamstring in training on Friday.
Hughes, for his part, believes victory tonight could spark a European challenge at Ewood Park this season.
"We're in much better shape than at this stage last year," he said. "We're up to 30 points and it was late January before we reached that mark last year, and that was after a decent run that got us into the top half, so we want to kick on now."
Hughes will aim to keep his squad fresh over the second half of the season, as he did in Sunday's win over Derby. Then he made four changes and rested Steven Reid, who is carrying a slight calf injury.
Reid could return tonight, but Hughes has a host of midfield options including Robbie Savage, who has been linked with a move to Sunderland.Reuse content