Tony Mowbray suffers training-ground injury - but explains why it's good news for Sunderland
Tony Mowbray has been thrilled to welcome Aji Alese back into the fray at Sunderland, even if has left the Sunderland head coach nursing an injury.
Mowbray arrived for his pre-match press conference on Thursday afternoon with his left hand heavily strapped, later revealing that he'd ended up accidentally the victim of one of Alese's imposing aerial challenges.
The former West Ham United defender was temporarily in Mowbray's bad books but some short-term pain for the head coach is well worth the long-term gain.
Alese was outstanding on his introduction to the side earlier this season and looked to be picking up where he left off in last week's 1-0 friendly win over Al-Shabab in Dubai.
"Aji went for a header at the back stick and missed it," Mowbray explained with a wide grin.
"I was refereeing an attack v defence game and I was stood behind him when he's gone up, and he's stumbled and smashed straight into me. I've put my hand out to try and hold him off. It's a sore one, it's my thumb, you don't really feel it until you pick something up.
"Thankfully it's on my left hand, which I don't use much. I did ask what he was playing at but to be fair I think it's my fault, a few years ago I would have got out the way a bit quicker."
Mowbray's defensive options have improved considerably over the break, handing him a number of significant dilemmas ahead of Millwall's visit to the Stadium of Light on Saturday lunchtime.
Lynden Gooch trained fully throughout the World Cup break, while Luke O'Nien is back following suspension and Dennis Cirkin also recovered from a hamstring injury with no further issues.
After a remarkable and early comeback against Birmingham City, Niall Huggins has also continued to build his fitness. All bolstered their claims for selection in the friendly win - even if Gooch had to leave the pitch following a confrontation with an opposition player.
Bailey Wright is unavailable due to Australia's ongoing progress in the World Cup, bringing Alese into contention for Saturday's game.
Whether or not he makes an immediate return he has proven that he has a big part to play over the rest of the campaign, and Mowbray is clearly thrilled to have him back in the fold.
"Aji is quite an unassuming guy, he's quiet until he gets out on the pitch and then he's an absolute monster," Mowbray said.
"He's aggressive, tackles and runs, wins his headers. He marauds about the pitch and it's a big plus for us that he's back in the fray.
"He was on the fringes a bit when I came in, but he has all the attributes. He's 6ft 3, he's mobile. He's good with the ball, his heading is improving and he makes first contacts really well, he uses his height and nicks it away. He really came to the party when he got the opportunity, and I don't see what should change.
"He gets the job done - it's a big plus."