DANNY Welbeck has returned to Manchester United – a move which is expected to signal the end of his season-long loan to Sunderland.
The 20-year-old was ordered back to Old Trafford to undergo treatment on the hamstring strain aggravated in the Black Cats’ crucial win over Wigan at the weekend.
But Steve Bruce has not abandoned all hope that the young England striker could return to play in the club’s final game of the season, when the Black Cats travel to West Ham looking for their first win on the last day of a Premier League campaign.
The Sunderland manager said: “Danny has gone back to Man U, because they want to assess him and he won’t come back to us unless they can get it 100 per cent right – say in time for the last game of the season against West Ham.
“But I’ve got to say that’s unlikely given how close to the end of the season we are.”
Bruce is facing up to the loss of both Welbeck, who limped off the pitch midway through the first half against Wigan, and fellow striker Asamoah Gyan, who was stretchered off with a hamstring injury just after the hour mark.
The loss of his only two fit strikers put a huge dampener on the day for Bruce, even though the victory effectively ensured Sunderland stayed in the Premier League for another season.
“It was a big relief to get the win at the weekend and put an end to the horrible run we were on, but, for me, the most disappointing thing was the collateral damage that came with it,” said the manager.
“It looks like we will be without the both of them for the rest of the season now, which is a massive blow.
With Fraizer Campbell already ruled out for another year after knee ligament and Achilles surgery, Sunderland go into this Saturday’s home game against Fulham with no fit senior strikers.
Bruce could call upon 19-year-old rookie Ryan Noble, but he has never started a first-team game.
Instead, he is more likely to keep faith with the men who were pushed forward in the latter stages against Wigan, with Sunderland scoring three times when Stephane Sessegnon spearheaded the attack with Steed Malbranque playing just behind him.
“The problem with Ryan is that he hasn’t played a lot of football,” said Bruce. “It’s a situation I will have to look at, but earlier in the season we played well with Steed playing off the front and certainly once Welbeck and Gyan had gone off against Wigan, we went on to score three more goals with Sessegnon and Malbranque playing further up the pitch.
“Maybe that’s the way I will decide to go, we’ll have to see.”
There was some good news for Bruce, though, with defender Phil Bardsley already passed fit to face Fulham despite being stretchered off against Wigan and taken to hospital after a clash of heads with team-mate Nedum Onuoha left him with concussion.
Bruce said: “Phil will be fine.
“He was back at the ground after leaving hospital and he went home on Saturday night.”
Midfielder Kieran Richardson (calf) did not play against Wigan and is again rated 50-50 for this weekend.