STAND-IN Sunderland skipper Michael Gray could find himself back in England contention after his eye-catching start to the new Premiership campaign.

The 26-year-old Wearsider, who was given the captain's armband in the continued absence of central defender Steve Bould, had one of his best ever games in the 1-0 home victory over Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.

And Wearside boss Peter Reid took the opportunity to sing the praises of Gray when he bumped into England coach Derek Fazackerly at Old Trafford before Manchester United's victory over Newcastle United on Sunday.

Reid is hoping that Fazackerley will convey news of Gray's return to form to England boss Kevin Keegan before he announces his squad on Thursday for the international against France in Paris on September 6.

Left back has proved a problem position for Keegan and he could well consider a recall for the Sunderland defender, who has three England caps.

Straight-talking Reid said: "I don't think Michael had a good season for us last year.

"But I feel he has had an outstanding pre-season and on Saturday he was absolutely magnificent.

"I bumped into Derek Fazackerley at Old Trafford and told him how well Michael played against Arsenal.

"I gave him the captaincy on Saturday because I felt his form deserved it - and he was fantastic against Arsenal."

Locally-born Gray is now Sunderland's longest serving player following the departure of former skipper Kevin Ball, and he has a burning ambition to win back his place in the England team.

He knows that he can only achieve his aim by playing consistently well in the top flight and he will be hoping to lead Sunderland to another important victory in their tough away game against Manchester City tomorrow.

Also hoping to do well for the Wearsiders is their £2.5m close-season signing from Everton, Don Hutchison, who missed the Arsenal game through suspension.

But the 29-year-old Tynesider took part in the after-match dressing room celebrations and paid tribute to the way his new teammates performed against last season's Premiership runners-up.

Hutchison said: "It was so frustrating on Saturday - I've never experienced watching a game like that.

"It is worse when you are not playing - when you are out there on the field you can focus on the game and your own performance. But it was agony just having to watch and willing them to win.

"I thought the side played tremendously well and it just shows we have a great team spirit."

Hutchison added: "We've got to admit we were a bit fortunate and carried a bit of luck, but goalkeepers are there to make great saves.

"And if I do half as well as Stanislav Varga did on his debut I will be very happy - he was one of the men of the match."

Reid will be forced to delay his team selection because of injuries. First choice keeper Thomas Sorensen is doubtful with a knee injury and Austrian Jurgen Macho is set to continue to deputise at Maine Road.

There is also a doubt about Niall Quinn, the match-winner against Arsenal, who is nursing an ankle injury, while French midfielder Eric Roy is also receiving treatment for a knock on the ankle