MARTIN O’Neill is ready to hand Craig Gordon the chance to prove he is worthy of a new contract at Sunderland.
Scotland keeper Gordon has not made a first-team appearance for Sunderland since February 2011 after spending 11 months on the sidelines with a knee problem and then finding his way back into the fold blocked by Simon Mignolet and Keiren Westwood.
The 29-year-old was included six times on the bench while Westwood recovered from a wrist injury, before the Ireland international resumed his place as back-up to Mignolet at Manchester City last weekend.
But, with Sunderland out of the FA Cup and free from relegation worries, O’Neill is considering pitching Gordon into the starting XI during the final seven games of the campaign.
Gordon’s five-year deal expires in the summer and the Black Cats boss wants to see the £9million former Hearts man on the pitch before considering offering him a new contract.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I’ve got what I consider three really fine goalkeepers at the football club.
“One is recovering from a long-term injury, in Craig, and genuinely, before the end of the season, I would like to see what he can do.
“The goalkeeping position is one which does cause you a problem. It’s not as if I can switch him from right-back to left-back.
“Craig is nearly about there in terms of full fitness, but the only way you can check is by putting him into the team.
“It’s a situation I’ll monitor before the end of the season, particularly with Craig’s contract coming up.
“But if he’s fully fit, then really he should be in a strong bargaining position anyway. He needs to play though.”
Summer signing Westwood held the goalkeeping spot on O’Neill’s arrival, but was forced out of the side through illness at the turn of the year.
Mignolet has grasped his opportunity after recovering from severe facial injuries, with the Belgian international enjoying an impressive run of form despite conceding three times at Manchester City last weekend.
“Keiren Westwood lost his position through illness so he could consider himself unlucky,” added O’Neill.
“Mignolet has done very, very well and I’ve been very pleased with him.
“I don’t think he could do anything about the two late goals at Manchester City. He’s beating himself up because apparently he was getting a bit of criticism in Belgium and he was very disappointed.
“Seamus McDonagh (goalkeeping coach) was full of praise for him obviously in the game and Simon said he was pleased because he had taken some stick.”