MICK McCarthy last night tipped Stephen Elliott and Chris Brown to be this season's Kevin Kyle after insisting that he would not be forced into a panic buy just 24 hours before the start of the new season.

Kyle was a relative unknown at this time last year, but the physical frontman went on to establish himself as one of the most influential strikers outside the Premiership.

The 23-year-old has become integral to McCarthy's plans but, after injuring his hip in the opening week of pre-season training, is unlikely to make the starting line-up when the Black Cats kick off their new Coca-Cola Championship campaign at Coventry tomorrow.

That leaves McCarthy with a straight choice between Elliott, 20, and Brown, 19, as he seeks a strike partner for Marcus Stewart.

The Black Cats boss has spent most of the summer looking for a new frontman, but David Connolly and Nathan Blake spurned his advances in order to join promotion rivals Leicester, while Portsmouth's Mark Burchill failed to sparkle in a trial last week.

McCarthy appears to have run out of options but, rather than being worried, he will be happy to throw one of his youngsters into the fray.

"At the start of last season, question marks were being raised about Kevin Kyle," said McCarthy, who will give late fitness tests to both the Scotland international and Julio Arca ahead of tomorrow's game. "But he proved everybody who doubted him wrong.

"He had a great season, so who's to say that won't happen with Chris Brown or Stephen Elliott?

"We'll find out just how good they are. We can't turn round and say that they're absolutely ready and top class because we don't know. They've not really done it yet because nobody's seen anything of them for 12 months.

"But what I won't do is have a panic and take someone else in who isn't any better than the lads I've got. I'd sooner give them an opportunity. I've had a look and, if there had been someone there, then fine. But there hasn't been."

Kyle's only pre-season action came during the first half of last month's 3-0 win over the Wilmington Hammerheads and, despite returning to training this week, the Scot is way behind his teammates in terms of physical preparation.

Sunderland face a hectic seven days with tomorrow's trip to Coventry followed by successive home games against Crewe and QPR, and McCarthy is wary of making things worse if he rushes his leading striker back too soon.

"I'm more hopeful than I was, but he hasn't done all his fitness work," said the Sunderland boss. "He's missed a lot of stamina training and I don't want to risk him getting injured again. "

McCarthy will also have to make a decision about Arca, with the versatile Argentinian having missed almost a week of training after injuring his thigh in last weekend's win at Doncaster.

Man City became the latest club to be linked with the South American earlier this week and, with Arca's contract due to expire in May, more speculation is likely if he continues to stall on a new deal.

McCarthy knows that there will be plenty of Premiership clubs eyeing the left footer.

"I've had a chat with Julio and he's very happy at the club," he said. "I've said before that I don't doubt that there are people interested in him, but I think we should let him decide.

"The club have had positive discussions with him so far. I want him to sign like everybody else does and, if he's fit, he'll be playing week in week out this season."

* Sunderland's new Diadora home kit will go on sale at 12.01am tomorrow at the Stadium of Light shop.

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