DAVID Vaughan is edging back to full fitness to further strengthen Martin O’Neill’s midfield options.
The Welsh international has had a luckless summer, injuring himself in Sunderland’s early pre-season trip to South Korean and forced to undergo two hernia operations in a bid to resolve groin problems.
But the 29-year-old is now poised to return after getting an hour’s Reserve team football under his belt at the weekend and being given the all-clear to step up his training.
Vaughan played for an hour as a senior player in Kevin Ball’s Sunderland U21 side on Saturday.
The team drew 2-2 at Spurs in the Barclays Under 21 Premier League but for Vaughan there was huge relief at getting his first competitive football since the end of last season.
And now he will use the fortnight’s international break to work on the fitness programme he missed out on during pre-season.
Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill confirmed: “David is coming back to fitness now.
“He trained with us for a few days last week and played in the Under 21 game at the weekend.
“He will have a fortnight now to train and get some proper work in, and hopefully he will then come back raring to go.”
As well as Vaughan, Sunderland have five recognised central midfielders – Lee Cattermole, Seb Larsson, Jack Colback, Craig Gardner and David Meyler – but with Colback and Gardner used as stand-in full-back at the moment, O’Neill’s options have been somewhat limited so far this season.
Vaughan’s return would offer O’Neill an interesting alternative to his present selection.
The Welsh international has had a stop-start career at Sunderland so far after joining on a Bosman free transfer last summer.
But at his best he is a superb passer of the ball and his long-range distribution could potentially be a huge asset now that O’Neill’s squad has two out-and-out widemen and a physical frontman who works hard in and around the box.
O’Neill will be relieved to see Vaughan on the comeback trail, especially as his midfield options are stretched.
Cattermole was substituted in the weekend draw at Swansea with a knock and although it proved to be nothing more than a dead leg, (the skipper will be fit when Sunderland resume their Premier League campaign against Liverpool a week on Saturday), it highlighted how little leeway he has in that department with Colback and Gardner deployed at full-back.
Deadline-day loan signing Danny Rose should help in that regard if he gains match fitness soon and the Spurs man does well enough to earn a regular run at left-back.
That would free up Colback to return to the midfield, although with Phil Bardsley expected to be sidelined for weeks to come after ankle surgery Craig Gardner is likely to continue at right-back for the forseeable future.
For the moment, though, it will be a comfort to O’Neill to know Vaughan should soon be available again, offering the manager a central midfielder with different skills to the ones currently at his disposal.