WES Brown is becoming an increasing concern for Sunderland after yet another breakdown in training this week.
The 33-year-old was forced to the sidelines at the Academy of Light this week after more problems with the knee which has wrecked his hopes of first-team football in 2012.
And manager Martin O’Neill admits that this is a tough spell for the former Manchester United star to endure both physically and mentally.
He revealed: “Wes had a bit of a setback in training the other day and we’re going to have to assess that now.
“He’s going to be a little longer, frustratingly.”
This though is not the first time Brown has suffered a problem on the comeback trail.
He has been trying to get himself fit since the start of the season and has reached the light training stage several times, only for problems to continue occurring.
Brown’s problems began in January of this year when he landed awkwardly on his knee in the FA Cup game against Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light.
He was replaced on the hour and never played another game again for Sunderland that season.
In pre-season this summer he hoped to be fit enough for a return and was included in the squad which flew over to South Korea to take part in the Peace Cup.
He had looked his usual reliable self in that competition.
But he limped out of the final game, against Dutch side Groningen, before half-time with Martin O’Neill revealing he had damaged his knee ligaments.
At first it looked as though it could be serious knee ligament damage the defender had suffered – ruling Brown out for most of the 2012-13 season, only for O’Neill to reveal on the eve of the new season that the injury wasn’t as bad as first feared and the defender’s absence would be measured: “in weeks rather than months”.
That has not proved to be the case though, despite the player and manager’s best hopes.
And while team-mates Phil Bardsley, David Vaughan and Stephane Sessegnon have all returned from serious injuries of their own which sidelined them in pre-season, Brown has broken down at least three times while working to get back into first-team contention.
O’Neill told the Echo: “Wes himself is really frustrated with it all. Having come to a new club he was wanting to make an impression.
“It’s a tough time for him in his career and really frustrating.
“He wanted to make a mark but unfortunately the comeback has not been easy to overcome.”
Injuries have plagued the former England international throughout his career and he missed the whole of the 1999-2000 season after damaging cruciate knee ligaments in training.
Several other campaigns were also blighted by injury during a stay at Old Trafford from 1996-2011 which yielded only 232 appearances.
Last summer he finally cut his ties with United, signing a four-year contract with Sunderland in a £1m deal.
So far, though, he has been restricted to just 20 league games for the Black Cats.