DAVID Meyler heads to America today to begin a month of rehabilitation aimed at finally curing his long-standing knee problem.
The Sunderland midfielder has been out since January after re-injuring his knee ligaments just a month after returning to the first-team picture.
Boss Steve Bruce fears it may not be until the New Year before Sunderland fans see Meyler in action again.
But Sunderland hope a chunk can be shaved off that estimated return after the Irishman spends a month in Vermont with the same knee specialist who helped Chelsea’s Michael Essien back into action.
Bruce told the Echo: “I know Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole have been out for long periods, but Meyler has been a massive loss this season.
“Even when he came back into the side when he wasn’t fully fit, he made a big difference to the team.
“We’ve got to get him right because he’s a big player for us.
“They’ll do everything they can to get David right while he’s in America, without having surgery. Hopefully they can sort the problem out.”
Knee ligament victims Meyler and Fraizer Campbell made just nine appearances between them in a red and white shirt this season.
The prospect of being without the duo again for the bulk of next year is a harrowing one for Sunderland to face, particularly with the likes of Lee Cattermole, Titus Bramble, Craig Gordon and Michael Turner also struggling to be fit for the start of pre-season training.
Meyler is far closer to a first-team return than Campbell, who is unlikely to feature at all next season, but he needs to prove his knee is strong enough to be reintroduced to the strains of the Premier League.
Although Meyler was included on the bench for two games in April, the 22-year-old’s knee remains susceptible to swelling and he is still not able to realistically challenge for a place in the side.
The former Cork City man ruptured all the ligaments in his knee in a devastating injury in the final home game of last season against Manchester United.
And although his relapse in January’s win at Aston Villa wasn’t so severe, it could still potentially rule Meyler out for 12 months by the time he is ready to compete for a first-team spot again.