LEE Cattermole is striving to give Sunderland’s depleted midfield a boost by returning for tomorrow’s clash with Bolton.
But Martin O’Neill is prepared to hand Sunderland’s fringe players an opportunity if the skipper fails to shake off his knee problem in time to face the third bottom Trotters.
O’Neill will be forced into making two changes to his midfield tomorrow, with Craig Gardner suspended and Seb Larsson ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing hernia operations.
Cattermole has missed Sunderland’s last two games after succumbing to the knee ligament damage which had been troubling him for several weeks, but has upped his training over the last week.
But with David Vaughan and David Meyler vying to take Gardner’s spot in central midfield and Ahmed Elmohamady and Fraizer Campbell in contention to replace Larsson on the right, Black Cats boss O’Neill may adopt a cautious approach with Cattermole in favour of giving others an opportunity.
O’Neill said: “Lee Cattermole is trying to make a concerted effort for the game.
“I’ll have to see and it might not be the case that he plays, which would be a shame because we really are struggling for a few bodies.
“But that might give me the opportunity to give a few others a chance, even though you still want to try to win the game. You want to be as competitive as possible and we want to finish as high as possible.
“At the same time, it might be an opportunity to have a look at someone. I’ll take that into consideration.”
Both Larsson and Kieran Richardson underwent operations on Tuesday, which will keep them sidelined for around a month.
While surgery keeps Larsson out of Sunderland’s final three games, the Swedish international should be fit in time for the summer’s European Championships.
“Seb’s been complaining for a number of weeks, but he’s played through it,” said O’Neill.
“He was prepared to play on until the end of the season then go into the Euros with Sweden under the same sort of position.
“I thought to give him a chance of playing in the Euros, we decided to go ahead with the surgery. He’s deserved that after putting heart and soul into it, certainly since I’ve been here,
“After the Euros he can enjoy a bit of a break too without having to worry about having an operation, which maybe would have delayed him at the start of next season too.
“Kieran is a much more recent thing. Up until maybe about 10 days ago, we didn’t know there was any problem and I don’t think he did either.
“He went down to see the specialist, who thought the same thing as he did with Seb.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill has again hinted that Craig Gordon could feature before the end of the campaign despite not playing a competitive game for 14 months.
With the Scotland international’s contract expiring in the summer, O’Neill is keen to see the 29-year-old in action before contemplating a new deal.
O’Neill added: “I’m still hoping that there’s a possibility he might play a game. It’s the only way I’m going to find out.
“He’s chomping at the bit and wants to play, as does Keiren Westwood.
“But (Simon) Mignolet’s done superb for us, magnificently well, so we’ll have to see.”