Duncan Watmore is ahead of schedule in his return from injury and could be available for the final five games of the season.
The Sunderland forward suffered ankle ligament damage during January’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool, which was originally expected to result in a three-month lay-off – leaving him facing an uphill battle to feature again for the Black Cats during the survival battle.
But Watmore is understood to have slashed a fortnight off that estimate and resumed running at the Academy of Light last week.
The 22-year-old has upped the intensity of his training work this week and could be ready to join in with the rest of his team-mates within another fortnight.
If Watmore avoids any setbacks, then he has a chance of being involved for the visit of Arsenal at the end of April, with Sunderland facing another four games after that in their bid to remain in the Premier League.
Watmore’s return will be a timely one for Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce, who has made full use of the England Under-21 international’s potential since taking charge at the Stadium of Light.
The ex-Altrincham man has made 15 appearances under Allardyce – including five starts – after being handed his full Premier League bow by the ex-West Ham boss.
Watmore is the only long-term injury concern currently on Sunderland’s books after right-back Emmanuel Eboue recovered from a hamstring knock to feature in last week’s behind-closed-doors friendly against Middlesbrough.
Eboue suffered the injury just days after penning a short-term contract at Sunderland, with the problem stemming from the ex-Arsenal man being worked hard to bring him up to speed fitness-wise.
But the 32-year-old was able to complete 90 minutes against Boro and is now in contention to feature for Sunderland competitively.
Allardyce may have a decision to make on his right-back for this Saturday’s crunch clash against West Brom, with DeAndre Yedlin away on international duty with the USA for back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala.
Yedlin is not expected to return to the Academy of Light to train until Friday morning.