CARLOS CUELLAR has been given an extra week to get back to full fitness before he is considered for first-team contention.
Cuellar has not featured for Sunderland since November’s defeat at Hull City after falling behind Wes Brown in the pecking order and then suffering a hip injury which kept him on the treatment table for a couple of months.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet had pencilled in last weekend’s FA Cup fifth round clash against Southampton as a possible return date for Cuellar, as he looked to give his fringe players an opportunity to impress.
But after Sunderland’s midweek encounter at Manchester City was postponed, Poyet shelved that plan and opted to give John O’Shea and Santiago Vergini a start together ahead of this weekend’s Premier League trip to Arsenal.
Poyet admits Cuellar would have been ahead of schedule anyway, so has decided to give the Spaniard another week on the training field before he comes into his thoughts.
“Carlos has still been feeling tight, but because of the position we were in, with John and Santiago lined up to play at Man City, it was perfect for him to come back against Southampton and play,” Poyet told the Echo.
“It was ideal for him and (Valentin) Roberge to play, just so he could get some minutes again.
“But we didn’t play against Man City so everything changed.”
With Sunderland facing a demanding fixture schedule over the remaining three months of the campaign, there is a good chance that Cuellar - who is out of contract in the summer - will feature for the Black Cats before the end of the season.
But with Wes Brown back from suspension after the Arsenal game and Poyet rating Vergini highly, the 32-year-old is down the pecking order and fighting with Roberge to be considered Sunderland’s fourth-choice centre-half.