HE has played with a host of different centre-backs during his four years at the Stadium of Light, but Danny Collins feels his embryonic relationship with Anton Ferdinand could be Sunderland’s most profitable partnership yet.

Collins and Ferdinand have played together in the Black Cats’ last two matches, and while the Wearsiders have shipped two goals on each occasion, there have been signs of a successful relationship in the offing.

The pair battled gamely against the lively Gabriel Agbonlahor and the combative John Carew at the weekend, with Aston Villa’s goals coming from set-pieces rather than open play.

With Nyron Nosworthy expected to be sidelined for at least three weeks with a hamstring injury, Collins is likely to retain his place alongside Ferdinand for Saturday’s home game with Arsenal.

“I’ve enjoyed playing alongside Anton,” said Collins, who was dropped for two games after last month’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City.

“I felt really comfortable playing alongside Anton (at Villa), and a lot of the credit for that is down to him. He’s a good communicator and I think we’ve picked a lot of things up straight away. We handled their front two pretty well.

“I was gutted to be left out at the start of the month.

Anton came in with Nosworthy, but I just got on with it, trained hard and took the chance that came my way when an injury came up.

That’s what the gaffer will expect from all of us.”

Ferdinand was one of nine senior players to arrive on Wearside in the summer, and a number of commentators have attributed Sunderland’s inconsistent start to the season to such a large turnover of players.

The likes of Djibril Cisse, El-Hadji-Diouf, Steed Malbranque and George McCartney are also settling in to Roy Keane’s preferred starting line-up, but Collins denies that it could take another couple of months for everyone to feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

“I’ve heard people talk about us needing time to gel and the new players needing time to settle, but I’m not really sure,” said Collins. “I already think we look pretty comfortable together.

“It can take time to get used to things, but when it comes to the players who have come in here this summer, I don’t really think it’s been like that.”

■ Sunderland’s away game at Stoke has been put back 24 hours on police advice to Wednesday, October 29.