Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill believes Titus Bramble can still be key

Titus Bramble: Still has a lot to offer, says manager O'Neill

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Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill believes defender Titus Bramble still has a lot to offer the Black Cats if he can stay injury-free.

The centre-back, who is in the final year of his contract on Wearside, impressed while deputising for Carlos Cuellar as the Spaniard recovered from a hamstring strain.

Cuellar replaced Bramble for the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City last week but O'Neill still has the 31-year-old in his plans, though hopes he can avoid picking up any more fitness problems.

He told the Sunderland Echo: "Titus's problems are always about staying fit.

"It is always a balancing act with Titus in training during the week - we have to get as much training into him without aggravating any injuries or risking swelling of the knees.

"It's a shame because you can see just how good he could have been had it not been for the injuries but he still has a lot to offer.

"He's bigger and stronger than he looks too. From a distance or on television you'd think he'd be 5ft 11ins but he's actually a big player and he won't get out-muscled by anyone."

O'Neill is pleased with the job Cuellar is doing at Sunderland since his move from Aston Villa in the summer but is also happy to have competition for the central defensive positions in Bramble, John O'Shea and Matt Kilgallon.

He said: "We've seen at the start of the season how good a player Carlos is capable of being and what really pleases me is how much he has bought into the move to Sunderland.

"There are positions now at the club where we have genuine competition for places and that's what you really need because your whole squad is going to be tested across the course of the campaign."