LEE CATTERMOLE faces his first game in three months this weekend when Sunderland’s skipper takes part in a training ground practice match.
The 22-year-old has been on the sidelines since Christmas with a back injury that required rest to ensure it did not develop into a stress fracture.
Sunderland have missed the influential midfielder. but he takes the first steps on his comeback on Saturday morning with an in-house training game at the Academy of Light.
Cattermole is also expected to play in Sunderland’s reserve clash at Manchester United next Thursday and has an outside chance of being involved for Liverpool’s visit to Wearside three days later.
Sunderland’s trip to Manchester City on April 3 is a more likely return for the ex-Middlesbrough player though, whose injury stemmed from a innocuous knee to the back.
“We’re going to have a practice game in training on Saturday involving most of the squad and that will give some of the returning players chance to get a little match fitness,” said Bruce.
“Catts is working with a personal fitness trainer at the moment, but he will play in the game this weekend and if he comes through that okay, we will look at involving him in the reserves against Man U.
“He has a chance of being in the squad for the Liverpool game, but then there is a fortnight before we play Man City and we will hope to get another couple of games into him in that time so he will be ready to face City.”
The training game will also provide vital match practice for four of Sunderland’s other returning absentees.
Nedum Onuoha and Bolo Zenden resumed training on Monday after missing two games with calf problems and should be involved against Liverpool.
Danny Welbeck, who played the final 20 minutes at Arsenal last weekend, and Fraizer Campbell, who made his comeback in the reserves this week from a six-month lay-off, are also due to feature.
Bruce said: “I’ll just mix it up and pick two sides – it’s really just a game for Catts, Fraizer, Bolo and Nedum to help them with their comebacks.
“Bolo and Nedum have both trained all week and they are fine.
“There’s still another 10 days to go until the Liverpool game so hopefully they will be fit and come into contention.
“Fraizer did really well in the reserves on Tuesday and this is another step on the road for him too.”
But the game comes too early for Michael Turner and David Meyler, both on the sidelines with knee ligament damage.
Bruce said: “We’re hoping that Michael will be fit to return to training in the next 10 days.
“David is still a couple of weeks away from joining in training but the good news is that the medical people have had a look inside the knee and everything seems to be structurally sound.”