PHIL BARDSLEY will make his injury comeback in a behind-closed-doors clash against Middlesbrough tomorrow.
It was revealed last week how Bardsley was making progress in his bid to return from the ankle injury which has kept the defender sidelined since the second day of Sunderland’s pre-season campaign.
Bardsley is around three weeks ahead of schedule in his recovery and is set to feature for a youthful Sunderland XI in a hastily arranged training ground encounter against Boro tomorrow.
If the 27-year-old comes through unscathed, then he is likely to be included as one of the three permitted over-age players in the under-21s’ clash at Stoke City on Monday.
Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill had hoped Bardsley would have the chance to further improve his match fitness by appearing for Scotland during the international break.
But Bardsley was not included in the Scotland squad named yesterday for crunch World Cup qualifiers against Belgium and Wales.
Scotland boss Craig Levein is understandably reluctant to select Bardsley before he has even featured in a friendly encounter, and the former Manchester United full-back will have to hope that he is given a chance through withdrawals.
Bardsley is understandably desperate to return to competitive football though after enduring a miserable start to the season.
A period of rest failed to cure Bardsley’s injury in pre-season and he was forced to undergo surgery to remove bone fragments from his ankle.
In Bardsley’s absence, midfielder Craig Gardner has performed admirably as a makeshift right-back and he will continue there for Saturday’s trip to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City.
Gardner is also likely to remain in defence for the Wear-Tyne derby which follows the conclusion of the fortnight’s international break, although Bardsley will harbour hopes of being included in Sunderland’s squad.
That is unlikely, but not out of the question, providing Bardsley can get sufficient minutes under his belt over the next two and a half weeks.