MARTIN O’Neill admits Jack Colback’s inclusion has provided some comfort amid his growing injury headache.
Colback returned to the fold in Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round tie with Middlesbrough after almost four weeks on the sidelines with an ankle injury sustained in Sunderland’s victory at Wigan earlier this month.
The 22-year-old is in line to start tomorrow’s mid-table clash against Norwich City, with fellow central midfielders David Vaughan and Lee Cattermole adding to Sunderland’s list of players on the treatment table.
But O’Neill has been impressed by Colback since arriving at the Stadium of Light last month and believes the former Ipswich loanee can blossom into a key figure for the Black Cats after being handed a two-year contract extension by the Sunderland boss.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I hope Jack can stay fit because I thought even in his little cameo role coming on against Middlesbrough, he gave us a wee bit of something.
“He can pass it and manoeuvre it and over the course of the next two seasons I’m expecting big things from him.
“I didn’t know an awful lot about him before I came here. I watched him a couple of times on television where he looked to have an extremely nice left foot.
“But he’s a little bit stronger than I thought he was and that’s good.
“I think there’s plenty of improvement still to come in him.
“And I can’t forget that he got injured in the warm-up at Wigan and still played the game. Those sorts of things have a bearing with me.
“I know you eventually have to earn your place in the team, but overall he’s been terrific.”
Cattermole (hamstring), Vaughan (ankle) and defender Wes Brown (knee) all underwent tests on their respective injuries yesterday, with the latter pair expected to be ruled out for several weeks.
Skipper Cattermole has only a slim chance of featuring tomorrow, while central defensive duo Matt Kilgallon (ankle) and Titus Bramble (Achilles/calf) remain sidelined.
Michael Turner will be handed his chance alongside John O’Shea at the heart of Sunderland’s back four tomorrow, with the former Hull City man set to make his first start under O’Neill.
“Michael will get a chance to play now,” added O’Neill. “He hasn’t played that much after being out for a while when I first came to the football club.
“Like anyone, he needs time on the pitch to get his timing going.
“Matt Kilgallon is a few weeks away. He was making decent progress, but you get to a stage where nothing seems to happen.
“Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole and David Vaughan all went for scans yesterday. David is going to be out for a few weeks, as will Wes, while we’re waiting to hear about Lee.
“Two of them will definitely be ruled out for tomorrow night and I wouldn’t be fantastically confident about Lee being fit.
“Just when you think you’re getting a few back, then we’ve got a few problems.”