David Moyes says Jan Kirchhoff will not be rushed back into action, but adds that his return will bring some much-needed stature to the Black Cats midfield.
The German midfielder gave fans a major boost when he appeared at an open training session last Monday, but Moyes insisted that he was not ready to take part in the 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park.
Kirchhoff will be a contender for the visit of Manchester City but Moyes admitted that a crucial April schedule will be on his mind when deciding when to introduce the 26-year-old.
Moyes said: “That’s part of it [busy April].
“You’ve got to remember that he’s missed a lot of football either through this injury or other injuries he’s had, this season we’ve really not had a lot of Kirch at all.”
Middlesbrough’s FA Cup quarter-final has seen the Wear-Tees derby rearranged, with a date in late April likely, and so the visit of Burnley on the 18th is the Black Cats’ only other game during the month of March.
That precedes a hectic April in which Sunderland face Watford, Leicester City, Manchester United, West Ham United, Bournemouth, plus Arsenal and Middlesbrough, depending on FA Cup progression.
Kirchhoff’s quality and experience would be a major boost for the Black Cats if he could play his part in the majority of those games, and Moyes is hoping that for arguably the first time this season, he will have genuine depth and variety in the heart of midfield.
Jack Rodwell is back in training after a hamstring injury picked up at Selhurst Park and while Lee Cattermole required an achilles injection, Moyes remains hopeful that he will be able to play some part again this season.
Moyes said: “I think his stature in there is important for us as well. He would give us a different look in midfield.
“We hope that if we can get Jan Kirchhoff and Jack Rodwell back, we’ll have Darron Gibson, Didier Ndong, Seb Larsson. We’ll actually have quite a strong group of central midfielders which would be good.”
The Sunderland boss also has George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch in his thoughts.
Honeyman was a second half substitute at Goodison Park and has impressed his manager with his work-rate, while Gooch was a favourite early in the season before a loss of form and injury.
Papy Djilobodji is available for selection again in defence after completing a four game ban for violent conduct.