TITUS Bramble is in line for a surprise return to first-team action before the end of the season.
The central defender is back in full training after a series of setbacks on the comeback trail and is expected to return to first-team availability, possibly as early as tomorrow’s game against Bolton Wanderers.
Martin O’Neill will not push the 31-year-old too fast, too soon and it’s unlikely Bramble will be in tomorrow’s squad – especially with John O’Shea now returned to full fitness.
But if the former Wigan and Newcastle man continues to progress he has a realistic chance of involvement in either of the last two games of the season, against Fulham and Manchester United.
And Martin O’Neill is keen to see more of a player who impressed him in the handful of games he played for the new boss in December before an Achilles injury ruled him out.
The Sunderland manager revealed: “Titus was back running the previous week and this week he has been back in full training, which is great.
“We had expected to have him back so much sooner than this.
“If you had told me back in December that I wouldn’t have him back to call on until almost the end of April, I’d have been tearing my hair out – he was looking an important player for us.
“You’ve got to treat Achilles injuries with respect and we did that but he kept having setbacks that appear to be behind him now.
“He’s certainly got a chance of being involved in a squad again now by the end of the season.
Bramble and Phil Bardsely were both injured in the Boxing Day game against Everton – Bramble limping out after 20 minutes, Bardsley replaced at half-time with a thigh strain and O’Neill confessed afterwards that he did not know when either would be back.
As it was, Bardsley was able to return in early January but Bramble has had a much rockier return, having had wear a protective boot for several weeks in order to help the injury heal over the last five months.
O’Neill said: “That’s just how it is with these type of injuries, you can never quite tell how long they will take for you to recover
“But the good news is that he is back now in training with the rest of the lads and we will hopefully be able to see a bit more of him.”