Jack Ross says patience is still key after watching Duncan Watmore make his Sunderland return on Monday night.
Watmore played 57 minutes as the U23s lost 3-1 to Middlesbrough.
The forward missed a penalty but looked lively as he battles back from a second ACL injury.
"He's getting ever-closer," Ross said.
"I know people are waiting for him to come back but we have been really patient with him and he is in a really good place because of that.
"We'll have another conversation now in the wake of the Middlesbrough game and see where he goes from there – obviously we have the Checkatrade Trophy game coming up, and there's another U23 game the week after that."
READ MORE: Duncan Watmore opens up on his Sunderland return
Watmore spoke candidly after the game, bullish about his return but honest enough to admit that it will be some time before he can hit his pre-injury form.
Ross echoed this sentiments and pointed to another key challenge that the 25-year-old will face.
"We can't expect too much right away in terms of his own levels because he has only played half-a-dozen first-team games in two years," Ross said.
"But not only that, he is also part of a very different squad now.
"I spoke to him the other day and one of the thing we talked about was the players' understanding of his game.
"It's a good point to make because he is different to what we have, but a lot of these players haven't played with him.
They've seen him in training but until you actually play alongside them on the pitch, you don't get to build those understandings so that will take time to develop," he added.
"The midfielder need to get used to playing with a player who makes a certain type of run.
"There could be a bit of a bumpy spell where he makes runs and they pass the other way, and vice-versa.
"So people's expectations have to be tempered, but we will do our best to protect him in that sense."