Phil Parkinson opens up on the ongoing Jordan Willis injury concern Sunderland have to manage

Sunderland will assess their next steps this week as Jordan Willis battles an ongoing knee problem.

Willis has been a fixture in the Black Cats side since arriving on a free transfer from Coventry City last summer, and the 26-year-old is an integral part of Phil Parkinson’s system.

Throughout, however, he has had to manage a patella tendon issue that while not preventing him from playing regularly, has caused discomfort.

Willis dropped to the bench on Tuesday night as Sunderland drew at Rochdale, allowing Dion Sanderson to make his debut.

Jordan Willis is a doubt for Saturday's tip to Gillingham

It’s understood that the tendon issue was the reason for this, rather than the minor foot injury he had sustained at Swindon Town just over a week earlier.

An injection allowed Willis to continue playing last season, and Sunderland are set to make a decision as to whether they go down that route again in the coming days.

One of the most consistent performers in the Sunderland squad, the Black Cats are eager to manage the situation well and avoid any significant issues for the defender.

“Jordan has had a problem since he's been here with his patella tendon,” Parkinson said.

“Last year we got to the stage where he had an injection in it. He's had a scan this week and we're at the stage where we are assessing whether ne needs that again, whether that's the right thing to do.

“He only had the scan on Wednesday so I need to sit down with him, the physio and the doctor to make that decision.

“It's something that he can get on with but as the games come thick and fast, there are certain days where he does find it uncomfortable,” he added.

“It's something which we have to manage.

“They are problematic. There are injections and treatments which you can have to help, but you can only have so many.

“So it's just a case of being careful and we will be guided by our medical team.”

It is not yet clear whether Willis will be able to face Gillingham on Saturday afternoon.

Should be unavailable, Sunderland are hopeful that Sanderson will be fit to take his place on the right of the back three.

Sanderson had to come through some discomfort in the second half at Rochdale, but the Black Cats are confident that there is no serious injury.

“Dion just took a whack to the knee,” Parkinson said.

“The lads who played on Tuesday haven't done a great deal [of training] today so we'll obviously just assess him before the game and make sure he's fine before we name the team.

“It's nothing serious. At the time we we worried because we thought he might have twisted it, but it was just impact.”

Luke O’Nien also looks set to return to the side on Saturday.

The 25-year-old was suspended for the trip to the Crown Oil Arena, and Parkinson has revealed that he would have been unavailable anyway as a result of a swollen ankle.

O’Nien did return to training on Thursday, however, and could therefore reclain the right wing-back role.

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