Sunderland boss discusses midfield options ahead of Fulham as Paddy McNair returns to training
Paddy McNair is back in training and could return to the squad against Fulham, though Chris Coleman is conscious of carefully managing the midfielder.
The 22-year-old, who was out for 10 months after rupturing his cruciate ligament, returned at the end of October and made five appearances before a groin injury.
McNair pulled up in the warm-up before Reading and wasn't involved against Wolves last weekend.
Sunderland are without Lee Cattermole this weekend after his red card at Molineux but Coleman's midfield options are set for a boost.
Coleman has confirmed Northern Ireland international McNair is back training while Didier Ndong isn't far away, though Coleman admits he may need a run-out in the Under-23s to build his fitness.
"Paddy trained today," said Coleman. "He looked good, he has had a bit of time out.
"You have to manage it carefully. We tread a fine line.
"Paddy was out a long time [with his knee injury], Paddy has a programme, his training schedule is slightly different. We are always looking after him and his knee.
"It is a fine balancing act. We also know we need our strongest team on the pitch. Whether that is Paddy having an hour or coming off the bench.
"Same for Didier Ndong, who needs minutes, probably in the Under-23s because he has been out for four or five weeks. It is a long time.
"But then we might need to use Didier because there is no one else! That is where we are.
"Whoever comes back into this team, or this squad, the bar has been set by the players fit in terms of attitude and mentality."
Coleman also had praise for Darron Gibson's performance at Molineux, his best yet in a Sunderland shirt.
Coleman added: "The players need to be street smart on the pitch and I thought all our players did that Saturday.
"It is not just about running around. You have to be smart, think smart, see what is happening and make good decisions consistently and Darron Gibson has been doing that.
"We know he is a very good passer. We need a certain job from our midfielders, whether it is Gibbo, Catts, Paddy or Didier. It may change game to game and they need to exercise the gameplan.
"Him and Catts did that, obviously we lost Catts and Gibbo was in there with young George [Honeyman] and Lynden [Gooch] and we controlled them really well.
"Gibbo did well and I had no worries putting Elliot Embleton on [for his debut].
"Gibbo spoke to him, told him where to be. Elliot has that assured confidence, you need a bit of arrogance, not too much.
"He was calm and composed, looked like he had been there before and I was really pleased for him."