Paddy McNair will take a major step on the road to his first team return when he plays 45 minutes in the Premier League International Cup clash against Hertha Berlin on Tuesday night.
The U23 contest, the first in a tournament that saw Sunderland reach the final last season, will also see Duncan Watmore continue his return ahead of the senior league game against QPR on Saturday afternoon.
Josh Maja could also appear in what would be a significant triple boost for Simon Grayson. Maja has not played since the 3-2 pre-season win over Bradford City, a game in which the youngster had underlined his superb start to the campaign with another goal.
Both Maja and McNair are likely to be at least a couple of weeks away from playing in the league, regardless of their involvement or otherwise against the Bundesliga youth outfit, but Watmore is nearing a first start of 2017 and is thrilled with his progression so far.
He said: “You’ve got to listen to the physios because they know best and the manager has been great in that respect, he’s listened to them as well. Sometimes you can get rushed back and that’s when you can have a recurrence, that’s the last thing you want so everyone has been great. I’ve been patient for 9 months so why not be for another couple of weeks?
“The progression is there, I came back against City and played 45, then gone 70, 11 v 11, come off the bench for the first team, I’ll play U23s again on Tuesday night. That’s three or four games before I’m considered for starting probably, which is a good place to be.”
The game against Hertha Berlin is a 7pm kick-off at the Stadium of Light.
Tickets are priced at £3 for adults and £1 for over-65s and under-16s.
U23 coach Elliott Dickman said: “Some of the lads might have missed out on playing at the Stadium of Light at Youth Cup level - due to injuries or selection - so it’s important they sample the atmosphere and don’t get overawed by it.
“Hopefully, they enjoy it but there’s enough experience within the group to help those lads, so hopefully we can get a result as well.”