Jack Ross admits that Jerome Sinclair could have a decision to make over his Sunderland future this month.
The 22-year-old is set to be given a chance to get his season going again when the Black Cats face Newcastle United U21s in the last 16 of the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night.
It will be first action since a 15-minute cameo at Portsmouth before Christmas.
His playing time has declined significantly since the early part of the season, when he made regular appearances after initially struggling with injury.
His season-long loan spell has a break clause than can be activated this month.
As it stands, Ross does not expect either Watford or Sinclair to trigger that option.
Ross is a big fan of the former Liverpool forward, who he has previously praised for making some big contributions in key games for the Black Cats.
He scored a vital goal against Peterborough United at the Stadium of Light and added some physicality to the side during Charlie Wyke’s absence.
Ross says his attitude has remained exemplary despite his lack of action on the pitch.
“I still speak to Jerome all the time,” Ross said. “I’ve said it before, but I really like him as a young man and his attitude to being here on loan is really good.
“He also wants to play regularly.
“The good thing is, I hope he would say, I still talk to him as much now as when he was in the team.
“I always think, as a manager, take Blackpool as an example, you can get caught up in the euphoria, we’ve won, big away crowd, tough game, great.
“You can forget about someone like Jerome who hasn’t been involved and how disappointing that is for them.
“I always make a note of it so I can deal with that. “
Sinclair scored his second goal of the season in Sunderland’s last Checkatrade Trophy game, a penalty in a 2-0 win over Notts County.
The 22-year-old has generally played up front for the Black Cats this season, a new challenge for a youngster who has predominantly played as an inside forward in the early stages of his career.
Ross would be loathed to lose another option this month and does not expected to do so, but admits he has a ‘duty of care to the player’.
“He is frustrated because he wants to play,” Ross said.
“Not in the sense that he is ticked off because he’s a good boy, he’s also very honest that his consistency levels have been up and down.
“He’s still trained well in that period which is all I can ask.
“His approach, attitude and demeanour hasn’t wobbled at all which I’m pleased about.
“Equally, he’s a loan player, and it needs to be worthwhile for everyone.
“I have a duty to him in terms of how he progresses his career.
“At the moment [expect him to stay],” he added.
“Again, it’s an ongoing conversation.
“We’d still be having that even he was playing every week and scoring hat-tricks.
“It can work the other way, look at Tammy Abraham and Aston Villa.
“As long as you’re communicating regularly and we both have an understanding of where he’s at, then that’s good.
“Then you know if he needed to play more regularly or we felt it was right then we could have that conversation.
“Hopefully on Tuesday he’ll get an opportunity to get back on the pitch and I’ve encouraged him to go and enjoy it.
“He deserves it for how he’s kept going, how his approach has been.”
Ross admits that the clash with Newcastle is far from ideal for the Black Cats, but adds that the potential of a trip to Wembley later in the season is increasingly an appealing prospect.
“I think once you progress from the group and you get to the knockout stages, you start to understand that you’re only a handful of games away from being at Wembley for a cup final,” he said.
“It is appealing and naturally, there’s a lot of people that would get excited about it because of the size of the support we would take to a cup final.
“I’ve never shied away from the fact that from the start of the season or even now, it’s not our absolute priority or our ultimate ambition.
“But given the progress we’ve made in the tournament, we want to continue to go as far as we can and ideally, get to the final and win it.”