AFTER spending the last three months battling back to full fitness, Stephen Wright has admitted that the form of Sunderland team-mate Nyron Nosworthy is threatening to make his spell on the sidelines even longer.

Wright, who has not figured in the first team since damaging his cruciate knee ligament in the opening-day defeat to Charlton, enjoyed a 70-minute run-out for the reserves in last week's win over Wolves.

He is hoping to start when Aston Villa visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday but, despite making more than 40 appearances as the Black Cats won the Championship title last season, the former Liverpool full-back is taking nothing for granted.

Nosworthy has done little wrong during his team-mate's enforced absence and manager Mick McCarthy faces a difficult decision as he ponders how to fill the right-back berth this weekend.

"Nyron's been superb, absolutely superb," said Wright, who is one of the few remaining faces from Sunderland's last ill-fated spell in the top-flight. "You want to be playing but you don't disrespect players in your own team.

"The manager wants competition for places and now that's what he's got. Does he go with Nyron or myself?

"He's claimed that right-back position, so it's up to me to get back in there. Could we both play in the same team? You never know."

Nosworthy is not the only challenger to Wright's role as, come January, Arsenal loanee Justin Hoyte could also be gunning for the right-back spot.

Hoyte, who is naturally right footed, has been one of the stars of Sunderland's season on the opposite flank following a long-term injury to first-choice left-back George McCartney.

McCartney is hoping to be back in contention by the start of next year.

"Justin's a good lad," said the 25-year-old, who spent seven months on loan at Crewe during the early stages of his Liverpool career. "He's strong, quick and exactly what you'd expect from a player at a big club like Arsenal.

"I know what he's going through - you have to go out on loan to get first-team football as a young player.

"If you look at the size of our squad and compare it to the likes of theirs, Liverpool's, Manchester United's or Chelsea's, there's a huge difference."

In Wright's absence, Sunderland have struggled to adapt to life in the top-flight. They have won just one of their 12 league games and the Liverpudlian admits it has been hard to watch without being able to influence matters himself.

"Whenever anyone's out injured, they'll always tell you they can't wait to be back playing," said Wright.

"But I've only been out for about three months and you only have to look at the likes of Colin Healy and Kevin Kyle to see people who have been out a hell of a lot longer. Their situation must be an absolute nightmare.

"I've been injured quite a few times now and you learn to live with it. You learn from the mistakes you made in the past."

* Goalkeeper Ben Alnwick will warm up for Saturday's home game with Villa when he lines up for England Under-19s against Switzerland at Wycombe Wanderers' Causeway Stadium tomorrow night.

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