MARTIN O’Neill admits Phil Bardsley and Wes Brown are finally starting to dream about a first-team comeback after their false starts to the season.
The former Manchester United defensive duo have both been on the treatment table far longer than originally envisaged after suffering injuries during pre-season.
Right-back Bardsley sustained an ankle problem on only the second day of pre-season training and, after an aborted comeback, it was eventually discovered that the 27-year-old had chipped a bone.
Brown, meanwhile, suffered a knee injury during Sunderland’s pre-season trip to South Korea that was originally supposed to keep the centre-half sidelined for a couple of weeks, after initial fears of ligament damage were removed.
But the former England international has similarly been hit by setbacks on the comeback trail, as he looks to make his first appearance for the Black Cats since January.
Bardsley and Brown are now back doing light training though and Sunderland manager O’Neill says they are closing in on a return.
O’Neill told the Echo: “It’s really early to say how long they’ll be out for yet, but Phil’s chomping at the bit, he wants to get going.
“Wes has been pretty down about his injuries, but he sees the light at the end of the tunnel now which is great.
“He just wants to play and that’s a great attitude to have.
“It’s the most frustrating thing in the world for players to get injured, especially when they’re what you would call pulls.
“A long-term injury you can cope with in your mind. When someone says you’ve done your cruciate, you know you’re out for a good length of time.
“But the ones that you think you can recover from in three weeks and suddenly it’s seven weeks, those are the things that do kill you off as a player.”
O’Neill admits though that neither Brown or Bardsley are likely to feature in Tuesday’s Under-21 derby at Newcastle as overage players after watching them complete some light work yesterday with the recovering Adam Johnson.
“Having seen them there yesterday, it would be early for me to make a judgment on whether they’re involved on Tuesday,” he added.
“But it might be too early for them.
“Phil’s doing well, but now that they have got to the bottom of his injury, with the bone that was floating around in it and was moved, you want to make sure he’s right.”