SUNDERLAND will gauge how Steven Fletcher reacts to a painkilling injection before deciding whether he features against Chelsea tomorrow.
Top scorer Fletcher was forced off at half-time with an ankle injury in last Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Norwich City and underwent scans on the problem earlier this week.
The specialist’s prognosis was encouraging and Fletcher is not facing a significant lay-off, but Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill is wary over rushing the Scotland international back this weekend.
O’Neill may decide to wait until Tuesday’s clash with second-bottom Reading to include the 25-year-old, who has been an ever-present in the Premier League for the Black Cats since his £12million summer move from Wolves.
But O’Neill will see how Fletcher reacts to the injection and his contribution in training today before making a late decision on whether the striker will face third-top Chelsea.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I’ll make a late decision on Fletcher. He’s been down to see the specialist, who was relatively pleased with him.
“He’s had an injection and we will now have to see how that works.
“Steven didn’t train yesterday but hopefully he will today and we’ll see how he gets on.
“But the two games in four days is something we might have to consider.”
O’Neill has a similar decision to make over the potential inclusion of centre-half John O’Shea, who returned to training yesterday after missing Sunderland’s last two games with a calf problem.
“It’s the same with John O’Shea. He trained yesterday and, for the most part, he is fine,” said O’Neill.
“He is keen to play, but we have to bear in mind that we have Chelsea and then Reading in the space of four days.
“I’ll be guided by the players.”
Connor Wickham, who impressed in the second half at Norwich, is in line to start in the Premier League for the first time since last December if Fletcher is ruled out, while Matt Kilgallon is likely to continue alongside Carlos Cuellar if O’Neill opts not to risk O’Shea.
But skipper Lee Cattermole is a definite absentee, with O’Neill confirming that the former Middlesbrough and Wigan midfielder faces around two months on the sidelines with medial ligament damage to his knee.
O’Neill added: “Lee saw a specialist last week and it would be a surprise if he was back playing again in less than eight or nine weeks.”