Duncan Watmore has joined his first team colleagues in training as he nears a Sunderland comeback.
Watmore has been back on the grass throughout pre-season after suffering an ACL injury during the 2-1 win over Leicester City last December.
He had mostly been training on his own, however, as he recovers from the first major setback of his senior career.
Simon Grayson revealed he is on schedule and now nearing match action.
Northern Irish midfielder Paddy McNair, who suffered a setback in his recovery from a similar injury earlier in the summer, is further away from a comeback.
Grayson said: “Duncan’s been training with the U18s a couple of times this week, he trained with the first team on Thursday morning, he’s moving along nicely. It’s still going to be a bit of a process of when is the right time for him to get match practice etc. Paddy McNair is a little bit behind because of that setback, but they’re both making progress. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”
Grayson has underlined how important the pair will be to his Sunderland plans this season, but has urged caution as they near a crucial phase of their recovery.
He said: “You’ve got to remember that you can get a knock-on effect from other injuries, muscle injuries, if you do too much with them too quickly. Once they’re back in full training we’ll have to manage their workload. They’ll be welcomed back though, that’s for sure.”
Grayson is preparing his side for a difficult away trip to Oakwell, having been impressed by Paul Heckingbottom’s side last season.
He said: “Barnsley had a great season last year, and they were up in the top half of the division for large parts of it.
“They’ve lost one or two players since then, brought some in, and they have got a few injuries too.
“You know what you’re going to get from Heckie’s [Heckingbottom] team, they are going to be organised, hard working, disciplined, and it is going to be a good atmosphere because we are taking more than 4,000 fans there.
“We have to be aware of Barnsley’s strengths and weaknesses, but let’s try to go there and impose our game.”