Kenwyne Jones may have underlined his credentials in the battle for places in Sunderland’s forward line, but his international commitments may hinder the 24-year-old’s chances of facing Liverpool when the Black Cats return to the Stadium of Light.
Jones has been named in Trinidad and Tobago’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.
As a talismanic figure in the T&T squad, Jones’ call-up is no surprise, but it will cause Steve Bruce problems with an important test of his team’s home form coming so quickly afterwards.
The Soca Warriors take on Mexico in Port of Spain on Wednesday, October 14 local time, or the early hours of Thursday British Summer Time – 62 hours before the Black Cats entertain Liverpool. With Jones unlikely to return before Friday afternoon, it is a match the striker will probably have to watch from the sidelines.
Bottom of their qualifying group after eight games, the Soca Warriors look extremely unlikely to qualify for the next World Cup but still have a mathematical chance, and are anyway entitled to call on their star striker in a scheduled international week.
The fixture clash, though, is bad news for Jones who has been made to sweat on his previously-guaranteed first- team place this season.
Jones was left on the bench when Sunderland played Hull last month, the day after Jones returned from his country’s 1-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to the USA in Port of Spain.
Bruce has made great play recently of his desire to promote competition for places within his squad. At times during his Sunderland career Jones’ work-rate has been called into question and the new manager appears to see the presence of England Under-21 international Fraizer Campbell as a good way of motivating the former Southampton player.
Until last week, Jones had scored in only one game this season – a brace against Blackburn Rovers in August – while Campbell has made the most of his limited opportunities to catch the eye.
But two goals and some good combination play with Darren Bent against Wolves strengthened his case.
Jones will have one more opportunity to leave his mark before heading off on international duty this week. The Black Cats travel to Manchester United, where he went on trial as a boy, in Saturday’s televised 5.30pm kick-off.
Some leading managers have called for all Premier League matches immediately after international breaks to be played on a Sunday to avoid the kind of logistical problems Bruce will encounter, but tradition and television demands are against them.
Liverpool will, of course, have problems of their own in that respect – but Sunderland’s smaller squad and Bruce’s fondness for non-European players will exacerbate the Wearsiders’. Paulo Da Silva is due to captain Paraguay against Colombia in Asuncion on October 14. The South Americans have already qualified for the competition.
The good news for Bruce is that John Mensah’s Ghana play their only match of the international week against Benin on the Sunday, giving him plenty of time to return to Wearside.
Da Silva’s call-up is good news for Anton Ferdinand, who has been reassured of his Sunderland future by Bruce.
The club’s most expensive defender was left on the bench against Wolverhampton Wanderers, as Bruce opted to play three of his summer singings – Mensah, Da Silva and Michael Turner – plus Kieran Richardson, a player more used to featuring in midfield, as his back four.
That revived talk of a swap deal with Tottenham Hotspur for right-back Alan Hutton, but Bruce was keen to stress yesterday that Ferdinand remains an important part of his plans.
"I left Anton out on Sunday, but he will be back at some point, don’t worry about that," the manager said.
"It’s a really good thing to have competition for places and players looking over their shoulders."
Ferdinand’s fellow substitutes on Sunday, left-back George McCartney and striker David Healy, meanwhile, were yesterday named in the Northern Ireland squad for the October 14 World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic.