KEIREN WESTWOOD is hopeful of beginning the battle to reclaim his Sunderland starting spot next week.
Goalkeeper Westwood has been on the sidelines for the last month after suffering a recurrence of the shoulder problem first sustained on Republic of Ireland duty in October.
The 29-year-old aggravated the injury in last month’s defeat at Hull City and, although he was on the bench behind Vito Mannone for the following game against Manchester City, he has not been involved in the Sunderland squad since.
But Westwood, who began the season as Sunderland number one, was close to being involved for tomorrow’s trip to West Ham and could be back for next weekend’s visit of Norwich City.
Black Cats head coach Gus Poyet told the Echo: “It’s the same problem as before with his shoulder.
“I don’t like numbers, like when people say someone is 75 per cent.
“But he is very close and until Wednesday, we thought he would be back and then ‘no’.
“Maybe Saturday week now.
“He needs treatment on it, so he’s comfortable to play.
“It’s frustrating for him because he wants to compete. He’s a competitor and a character.
“Players like that want to push the manager and have a chance.”
Carlos Cuellar is the only other player definitely out of tomorrow’s game, with the Spaniard ruled out for another eight or nine weeks with a hip injury.
But with a fully-fit squad at his disposal, Poyet has several selection dilemmas against the fourth-bottom Hammers.
The most pressing decision for the former Brighton manager is whether to persist with Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore together, or return to just one central striker.
“We need goals, but, at the same time, we need a balance,” said Poyet.
“When you play West Ham, for example, you need height because they’re very big. But, at the same time, we want to play.
“You have to have the right mix.
“Everybody is up for consideration.
“I don’t know whether Jozy was expecting to play against Chelsea, but he did play and he took his chance. That’s what you expect.
“He was strong against Spurs and the more he plays, the better he will become.
“We’ve got Fletch as well and that combination is working hard for us to play together.
“There’s decisions. The more we go forward, the harder the decisions will become and the more important they become.”
Poyet must also decide whether midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung and Lee Cattermole can play in the same starting XI after the latter made his return from suspension against Spurs last weekend.
“Because of the game and the situation, it did work because Lee gave us a bit more protection and Ki was happy to play higher and drive the ball forward,” added Poyet.
“But I think it depends on the game.
“It’s not so simple that you can say ‘yes they can play together’ or ‘no they can’t’.
“It depends on many things, but we’re working on it.”