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Returning pair can propel Cats up table: Bruce

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is backing midfield pair Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana to rediscover their best form as he battles to turn the Black Cats' season around.

The ex-Middlesbrough and Wigan enforcer and his Albania international sidekick laid the foundation for an excellent start to the season, with a series of displays which set the tone for the rest of their team-mates.

However, Cattermole suffered a knee injury in the 1-0 win over Liverpool on October 17 and is still on his way back to full match fitness, while Cana, whose rugged approach has already cost him two suspensions, has been less influential recently.

It is no coincidence that Sunderland have struggled to maintain their encouraging opening to the campaign with two of their most influential performers out of sorts, and they will run out at Portsmouth tonight looking for a first win in 12 Premier League outings.

Asked about Cattermole, Bruce said: "It's very difficult. If you miss a big chunk of the season through injury, it takes you just as long to get back."

Cana, a £5m summer signing from Marseille, has also found the going tough, but Bruce said: "It's caught up with him. But I've no problems with Lorik in terms of his commitment to the cause."