STEVE Bruce says he has no fears about Kenwyne Jones returning to pile more misery on him – as he prepares to finally unleash the Stoke striker’s £13m replacement Asamoah Gyan.
The Trinidad and Tobago international was effectively forced out over the summer after Bruce became frustrated by his inconsistency, but has proved his goalscoring pedigree with three goals in nine games since moving to the Britannia Stadium. Another at the Stadium of Light would make life awkward for the Sunderland boss, who knows he has plenty of work to do to repair his reputation on Wearside. But he insists he is just another opposition striker.
“Kenwyne has nothing to prove and we have nothing to prove to Kenwyne,” the Black Cats boss said. “There was never any falling out as people said and selling him enabled me to bring in Gyan and do something different.
“But make no mistake, he’s a very good player and we’ll have to play very well to keep him quiet. No matter what anyone says, I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Kenwyne.
“On his day he’s a very, very good footballer but you make decisions as a manager and I think he’d run his course for us here. I think a staleness had crept in. I wish him well – but not on Saturday.”
Sunderland supporters would certainly feel more comfortable if Gyan hits the ground running. So far his Black Cats career has been a slow burner – a fine debut goal against Wigan followed by numerous forgettable cameos as a substitute.
But Bruce is urging people not to judge him on his short appearances so far. “Bringing him in is a response to what’s happened last week because our Achilles heel is not scoring,” he said. “He is ready, make no mistake about it.
“He’s champing at the bit – I told him on Tuesday he’d be playing. It’s right to give the kid his chance. He can give everyone a spark and lift with his first Premier League start.
“Darren Bent’s played very well (as a lone striker) and his goal tally’s there for everyone to see, I’m sure he’d enjoy a bit of help.
“Gyan’s something different, I’m sure he’ll be a big hit in the Premier League. He’s a bit off-the-wall and he has that brilliance to win you a match. We’ve invested a lot of money in the kid and I hope he’ll come and give us a spark the crowd will enjoy.
“I haven’t needed to put him in yet. We have let him settle in and we were playing well and I didn’t want to tinker with it.”
Of course Jones is not the only Stoke player with intimate knowledge of life on Wearside.
Former skipper Dean Whitehead staffs their midfield engine room, while Danny Collins and goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen are also former Black Cats.
Add to the mix Danny Higgin-botham and Rory Delap and there is plenty of potential for former players to return to haunt Sunderland.
“We will welcome back the one or two who performed very, very well for us while they were here,” Bruce said. “But they know what it is all about here and I’m sure Tony Pulis will be saying to them ‘Keep the crowd quiet for 20 minutes’ and all the rest of that.
“We have to handle all of that.”