David Moyes feels Lee Cattermole’s hip problems could be in the past after his successful return to the Sunderland side in recent weeks.
The midfielder returned well ahead of schedule to start in the 2-0 defeat to Leicester City at the start of the month.
While his presence has not sparked a revival in Sunderland’s results, Cattermole’s leadership has been welcome for Moyes.
The Black Cats’ boss said: “I think he’s coped fine with it, which suggests his hip problem might be OK.
“I thought he had a real impact against Leicester with his leadership, I didn’t see it so much against Manchester United, but we need that leadership.
“I’m also making sure I don’t run him into the ground. I’ve got other options, but hopefully he will be finding his feet now.”
Cattermole himself is thrilled to be back in action after a frustrating season in which he had not featured since the devastating 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace in September.
The 29-year-old feared he may miss another chance to play against hometown club Middlesbrough, but now looks set to start Wednesday night’s Tees-Wear derby.
Cattermole told safc.com: “When I had the operation, I was told the time it would take me to get back,
“It fell straight on the Middlesbrough game, but I knew it would’ve been a big ask even if I thought I could make the bench for that game.
“It would be a great one for me and my family.
“It was a game I highlighted and I always had in my mind when I was doing all the rehab.
“After all the tough sessions, you do you always want to be in the best possible position, so, when the game comes around, you are ready.
“It would be nice for both teams to be in a better position, but we are where we are and we need to focus on getting a win which will give us some big momentum.
“It is a game I have felt I have always wanted to be involved in.
“We have played them in a couple of cup games (back in 2012) and I was buzzing, absolutely buzzing, but I was injured and missed them all in the end.
“It has been a massive shame because it is a game I have always wanted to play in.”
Both Sunderland and Middlesbrough have been left on the brink of relegation after a disastrous weekend of results.
Marco Silva’s Hull saw Oumar Niasse dismissed just 20 minutes into their clash with Watford but still ran out 2-0 winners, while Swansea beat Stoke City by the same scoreline.
It leaves Sunderland 12 points adrift with six games to play, while Middlesbrough are nine adrift with just five to play.
Boro suffered a horrendous day on the South Coast as they slumped to a 4-0 defeat against Bournemouth.