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Is The End Nigh For Brown?

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Wes Brown is beginning to look every bit of his 35 years, so perhaps now presents the ideal time to start searching for his successor with a view to a future without the veteran defender in the side.

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Former Manchester United and England central defender Wes Brown has seen and done it all, with some incredible highs and a few too many lows caused by injury problems which have plagued his career.

When fully fit, he's posted a collection of tremendous performances during his three years with Sunderland, but has also continued to struggle with injuries.

With his 35th birthday coinciding with perhaps his worst run of form in a Sunderland shirt, is now the right time to begin looking at alternatives in the centre-back position?

On-loan Uruguayan international Sebastian Coates is back in full training and ready for a league debut, while right-back Billy Jones shouldn't be far away from a return that would allow Santiago Vergini to shove back into his natural central berth.

Plus, with three games in quick succession against Premier League heavyweights Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, surely the bulk of the first-team squad will be required in order to negotiate those three incredibly tricky ties?

The January transfer window is fast approaching, and if either Coates or Vergini aren't up to the job of replacing Brown long-term, then a new signing must be sought who possesses the capabilities to do so.

In that sense, the only way manager Gus Poyet can make an informed decision is by giving either of the South American defenders a decent stint in the side.

Though not as urgent, Brown's ex-Manchester United colleague John O'Shea won't last forever either. However, his form has been more consistent than Brown's this campaign and he appears to have more left in him.

Brown has made a series of mistakes and missteps over recent weeks, which begs the question: is he worthy of a place in the team at this point?

I'm not suggesting he has absolutely nothing to offer at this stage, but maybe it's time he took on a more peripheral role at the club while Poyet looks at other options.

If Brown can't play three matches in just over a week, then why not take him out of the firing line and give someone else a go?

In the not-too-distant future, the Black Cats will certainly require replacements for both him and - a little further down the line - O'Shea, with no better period than right now to see if Vergini or Coates can pick up the mantle.

Should neither of them prove suitable for the task, then someone else must be quickly drafted into the squad in order to beef up the back-line ahead of the crucial final four months or so of the season.