Sunderland defender Wes Brown has suffered an injury in training which will delay his return to first-team action further, writes Graeme Anderson.
The 32-year-old former Manchester United and England international has been out since the end of January when he re-aggravated a strained calf initially picked up during Sunderland’s New Year’s Day win against Manchester City.
The centre-half got through just 26 minutes of the game against Roberto Mancini’s men before being replaced by Matt Kilgallon.
He returned to play the full 90 minutes against Swansea in the 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light later in January, but lasted only an hour in the FA Cup replay against Middlesbrough before having to be replaced.
Brown had been on course for a return to first-team availability sometime at the start of this month, but that schedule has now been revised.
O’Neill told the Echo: “Wes is doing well, but he got a bit of a setback on the calf problem.
“He went down to do some work and strained himself.
“I think he’s done that before in the self-same calf when he was close to fitness before.
“So he’s just a wee bit frustrated at the moment.
“But he’s doing fine and I think his knee is getting more solid now.”
The sooner Brown returns to full fitness the better for Sunderland, who are vulnerable in the central defensive positions as a result of injuries.
As well as Brown, former Manchester United team-mate John O’Shea remains sidelined, as does a key figure from last season, Titus Bramble.
But Michael Turner and Kilgallon have struck up a decent central defensive pairing in their absence.
Brown had an excellent start to his Sunderland career playing consistently well in the first third of the season before injuries started to kick in.
O’Neill said: “Wes is a top quality defender and we want him back before the end of the season, but it’s a case of having to be careful with him.”