Lee Cattermole will not be rushed back into competitive action, with Sunderland desperate to avoid surgery for the injured midfielder.
Cattermole will miss tomorrow’s visit of Watford after suffering a recurrence of a back injury in training seven days ago - a problem which had sidelined him for three weeks when it first occurred last month.
The 27-year-old has paid a return visit to the London specialist who treated him during the last international break, for a sciatic problem which stems from the disc in his back pressing against a nerve.
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce is unsure of the length of Cattermole’s absence while a course of fresh treatment attempts to eradicate the issue.
But Allardyce is being extra cautious over Cattermole’s return to the fold, to ensure the club’s longest-serving first-teamer avoids a long-term spell on the sidelines.
Allardyce told the Echo: “He doesn’t want to come back this time until he’s 100 per cent comfortable.
“We don’t want it to escalate into an operation because that could be weeks or months out.
“We want to make sure we get it right this time.
“He’s already been back to the specialist.
“It’s going to take a bit more time now it’s reoccurred.
“Now it’ll be about making sure the whole area around the injury is strengthened to give it a little bit more protection.
“He thought he was okay. He didn’t have any symptoms.
“Maybe because we played two games (Crystal Palace and Stoke) in five days, we overlooked that and should have said ‘whoa, step out of this one’.
“But we were so desperate for a couple of wins, nobody ever suggested it.
“I didn’t even think about it and he didn’t complain about it, but maybe that was the cause.”
Both Cattermole and fellow midfielder Seb Larsson will miss the visit of the Hornets, with the latter sidelined for a month with medial ligament damage to his knee.
Sunderland will also learn today whether Steven Fletcher has a chance of keeping his place in the side after limping out of training yesterday with a foot problem.
However, Jermain Defoe and Wes Brown are back in the squad after returning to full training yesterday morning.