Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Healy’s cup start a timely boost for Northern Ireland

Nigel Worthington got the news he was hoping for last night with confirmation that David Healy is to get much-needed game time tonight.

Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer is set to start for Sunderland in their fourth round FA Cup replay against Blackburn, just seven days ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifier against San Marino.

Healy’s lack of competitive action has been a worry, but with Black Cats’ boss Ricky Sbragia resting Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse it gives him a rare starting opportunity.

The strike pair sustained slight injuries in the derby draw against Newcastle on Sunday and are likely to be wrapped in cotton wool ahead of Saturday’s Premier League game against Stoke at the Stadium of Light.

With Michael Chopra joining Cardiff on deadline day and Sunderland failing in a bid to sign Darren Bent from Tottenham, Sbragia’s striking options are limited.

Daryl Murphy could play alongside Healy, or Steed Malbranque may play just behind the lone striker in a five-man midfield.

Sunderland take on Rovers for the fifth time this season after the initial tie at the Stadium of Light ended goalless.

A home tie against Coca-Cola Championship side Coventry in the fifth round awaits the winners, but that will not stop Sbragia fielding a weakened side.

"We’ve got a big game against Stoke and that’s on our minds already," said Sbragia.

"We will probably make five or six changes for Wednesday.

"Sunday’s game took a lot of energy out of us and we need to rest players. Having Premier League status is always in the back of your mind - the Stoke game is more important, I’ll keep my better players for that game."

Sbragia signed two defenders, Tal Ben Haim and Calum Davenport, just before the transfer window closed on Monday, both on loan, but neither is eligible to play against Rovers, having not been signed in time.

"I would have liked them to play but it’s not the case," said Sbragia.

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