Jack Ross has confirmed that Lee Cattermole is not set for an imminent Sunderland return.
The experienced midfielder has not featured for the Black Cats since the home win over Southend - and he won't return for the visit to Walsall this weekend in what is a blow to Ross.
The Sunderland boss, speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of the visit to the Banks's Stadium, revealed that the earliest Cattermole would return is after the FA Cup game against the Saddlers on December 1.
That could put mean the Checkatrade Trophy clash with Notts County on December 4 is a possible comeback date for the ex-Middlesbrough midfielder, who has impressed this season.
The Sunderland boss also provided updates on several of the club's longer-term absentees ahead of the visit to the Midlands.
"We still have some longer-term ones, Charlie Wyke and Ethan Robson, and Duncan Watmore will play for the under-23s next week which is a big step for him.
"Lee remains out and will the earliest he will come back in post-Walsall in the FA Cup, probably the beginning of that week."
And Cattermole may not be the only player missing the trip to Walsall, with THREE players carrying fresh injury worries.
Dylan McGeouch, Chris Maguire and Jerome Sinclair will all be assessed over the coming days as Sunderland sweat over the fitness of a key trio.
"We've had some little niggles this week - Dylan McGeouch, Chris Maguire, Jerome Sinclair. So we'll see how they are today and into tomorrow.
"So we're okay, but we're carrying the usual two or three that most clubs in the country will carry through the demands of this league."
Meanwhile, Walsall could welcome back an influential midfielder of their own ahead of the visit of the Black Cats.
Isaiah Osbourne is nearing a return to action and will be assessed ahead of the weekend - although manager Dean Keates will have to decide whether to drop youngster Liam Kinsella, who has starred in Osbourne's absence.