George Honeyman can divide opinion among the Sunderland fanbase but Jack Ross is a big fan and insists the skipper has been a big miss.
The midfielder will again be missing for the trip to Scunthorpe United in League One.
An ongoing ankle injury has kept Honeyman out of the side since the defeat at Portsmouth before Christmas, the captain missing a month and six fixtures.
His relentless energy and ability to link midfield with attack quickly has proved a miss and Ross has confirmed he won't be involved at Scunthorpe on Saturday.
Lee Cattermole, fresh from a two-game ban for 10 yellow cards, does return to the squad with Josh Maja back from illness having trained this week.
Honeyman divides opinion among the Sunderland fanbase but Ross is a huge fan and made the 24-year-old captain in the summer.
When that was put to him, the Scot said: "Divides opinion with some but certainly not with me or my staff or people within the club.
“I have been incredibly consistent with my opinion of George all season, that’s why he was given the captaincy as a young man.
"Sometimes it happens in football and perhaps you don’t realise what somebody gives you until they are not there, maybe George fits into that category..
“His contribution this season has been great and so we have missed him.
“We don’t look for excuses but we did play last weekend against the team second in the league without our top scorer or captain.
“We didn’t mention it after the game but that was the reality.”
On Cattermole's return, Ross added: "Lee, like George, has had a really positive season.
"Whenever he had that spell scoring goals it catapulted him into the headlines but his overall contribution both on and off the pitch is great, the way he trains every day is a huge help to me and having his presence in the changing room too.
“George is cub captain but Lee would captain the side in his absence so they are two influential figures we haven’t had in the dressing room on a matchday, at least having Lee back in this weekend is a big bonus.”
Maja is expected to lead the Sunderland attack having recovered from illness. Duncan Watmore hasn't trained this week but was due to return to the grass on Friday following a minor groin complaint.
Ross said: “Squad wise we are not that dissimilar to last weekend.
"Lee obviously returns from suspension, Duncan still hasn’t as yet trained but we are hopeful he will be back with the main group tomorrow, it was a fairly minor injury.
“George is still out for Saturday’s match, a blow for us, Josh is back from illness.”