STEVE Bruce admits he is “grateful” that Connor Wickham should be back in action before the end of 2011.
The Sunderland boss feared the worst when Wickham was stretchered off within the first five minutes of the Black Cats’ defeat at Old Trafford 10 days ago, amid initial concerns that the 18-year-old had ruptured his cruciate knee ligament.
But subsequent scans showed the £8million striker had only suffered damage to the ligament at the back of his knee and faces four to six weeks on the sidelines.
While Black Cats boss Bruce believes it could take Wickham (pictured right) a couple of weeks beyond that to regain match fitness, the injury blow is far less severe than a season-ending cruciate lay-off.
Bruce said: “Thankfully, it won’t rule him out for the season, which was our initial fear, and that is a big relief.
“If you tear your cruciate or medial ligament, you are generally out for at least six months. We believe there is damage to a ligament at the back of the knee and we hope that it will repair within four to six weeks.
“It’s very difficult to put a definite time limit on it, but we are just grateful that it isn’t one of those serious knee ligament injuries that rules a player out long-term.”
Sunderland have suffered a catalogue of knee injuries over the last 18 months, with David Meyler and Fraizer Campbell suffering two apiece and Michael Turner, Titus Bramble and Craig Gordon also ruled out with similar problems.
“I can’t remember in my managerial career ever having as many knee ligament injuries as we have experienced over the last 18 months or so,” added Bruce.
“To have a catalogue of seven or eight serious injuries is quite unbelievable – one is bad enough!
“And, to make it worse, we’ve had people come back from ligament problems and then get injured all over again. It’s been very frustrating and difficult, but we just have to get on with it.”
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has also been ruled out for an extended period after fracturing his nose and cheek bone in the draw with Aston Villa last month.
Bruce just hopes it is not the start of another torrid tale of injury woes after the second half of last season was ruined by players flocking to the treatment table.
He said: “I don’t want to talk about injury jinxes because then it sounds as though you are being paranoid, but we’ve certainly had a bad run. Simon broke his nose and normally you would be back within three weeks, but of course he has also fractured his cheekbone.
“We’ll have to be patient, but thankfully Keiren (Westwood) came in and had a wonderful debut at Old Trafford.”
There is some good news on the injury front though, with Craig Gordon back on the training ground after recovering from knee surgery.
But the Scotland cap is still around a month away from returning to action, with Trevor Carson set to continue as deputy to Westwood against Fulham on Saturday.