SIMON Mignolet is ready to become the man in the mask in order to speed his return to first-team availability.
The young keeper travelled to London this week to see a specialist about having a protective Phantom of the Opera-style protective mask fitted, which would allow him to start training again.
And the 23-year-old, who has established himself as Belgium’s number one keeper since joining Sunderland, hopes to back early in the New Year looking to be ready as soon as possible to offer competition to Keiren Westwood.
Mignolet suffered horrendous facial injuries when Emile Heskey’s arm smashed into his face during Sunderland’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa at the end of October.
And the badly fractured nose and broken eye socket he sustained in the game was so bad it left him unable to train, or even run, in the days and weeks afterwards.
O’Neill said: “Simon has been in London this week to see the specialist again.
“The plan is for him to be fitted with one of those facial masks and, once he gets the all-clear with that, the plan is that he will also be able to train with us again.”
Scotland international goalkeeper Craig Gordon is also back in training as he continues his comeback following a knee operation at the end of last season.
“Craig is coming on,” said O’Neill. “He has trained with us this week so, now he’s got the all-clear to train, he just needs to keep on doing that.”
The positive developments hold out the good news that, within weeks, Sunderland could have all four keepers fit and pushing for selection.
And while there’s good news at one end of the pitch, there’s also positive news at the other as Fraizer Campbell successfully continues his rehab after 16 months out.
He is now training with the first team, and Sunderland will look to arrange a second behind-closed-doors friendly game for him to further test out his knee in match conditions.
O’Neill said: “We decided not to play him in the reserves against Hull this week, but we do intend to organise a game for him in the near future.”