SIMON Mignolet could restrict Craig Gordon’s first-team comeback to a solitary game by regaining his starting spot for Sunderland’s trip to Fulham this weekend.
Gordon made his first competitive appearance in 14 months against Bolton last Saturday after Martin O’Neill fulfilled his vow to hand the Scotland international a chance before the end of the season.
With less than two months to run on Gordon’s contract, Black Cats boss O’Neill had wanted to see the £9million keeper in action before deciding whether to offer him a new deal at the Stadium of Light.
But having seen Gordon in the flesh, O’Neill hinted that Mignolet could resume first-choice duties for Sunderland’s final two games, with the Belgian holding down a starting spot since replacing the ill Keiren Westwood for New Year’s Day’s victory over Manchester City.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I think Simon will be really unfortunate if he didn’t play in the final games.
“Simon has done particularly well this season, but we just decided to give Craig a game.
“I know Keiren Westwood lost his place through illness, but this was something I mentioned to the goalkeepers at a meeting a couple of weeks ago.
“In my mind, that’s a different issue to someone coming in through different circumstances.
“Craig did very well and I’m sure he will have been a bit nervous beforehand, going out there and being thrown into the game.
“But it might have proved something to himself.
“Craig’s main issue is to get properly fit and the rest will follow.
“If he’s 100 per cent fit, it means he’s psychologically as well as physically fit.
“If he gets back to being the goalkeeper he was, that would be great for everyone, regardless of what happens in the summer.”
Mignolet may not be the only change on Sunday, with John O’Shea and Nicklas Bendtner (left) both injury concerns after sustaining foot injuries in training this week, albeit O’Neill is confident the pair will be available.
“I spoke to John yesterday and he’s feeling better,” said O’Neill. “He went in for treatment on Wednesday and so did Bendtner. They’re both improving and we’ve got until Sunday so I’m hopeful both will be okay.”
O’Neill is also boosted by the return of midfielder Craig Gardner after the 25-year-old completed a one-match ban, with the Sunderland manager quick to dismiss any speculation potentially returning regarding the former Birmingham City man being homesick.
“Craig gives us another option,” he added. “He hasn’t discussed the home sickness with me for some considerable time and we’ll see what develops in the summer.”
Titus Bramble could also figure in the squad after participating in a second week of training, although Connor Wickham remains sidelined with an ankle injury.