'What a good footballer': Tony Mowbray relishing future return of Sunderland defender

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray is relishing the chance to work with a fully fit Daniel Ballard after being impressed with the defender's impact at Millwall last season.

Mowbray hopes that his squad will be strengthened by the return of Ellis Simms and Dennis Cirkin when Sunderland resume to Championship action against Preston North End this Saturday. Edouard Michut could also be part of the matchday squad for the first time.

Ross Stewart is unlikely to be involved through a busy schedule up until the World Cup break, and that's also the case with Ballard. Sunderland have been reluctant to publicly put a timescale on Ballard's return, determined to give him the time and space he needs to fully recover.

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Mowbray says he has no doubt that the 23-year-old will be a big part of his plans in the long term, and the head coach remains determined not to use his, Stewart's or any other players absence as an excuse in the interim.

Sunderland defender Daniel Ballard

"We've been in a situation where we've had one or two concerns but listen - every football club has injuries," Mowbray said.

"I'm always very conscious as a manager that I don't want to make too many excuses, but of course the reality is when you have your main striker unavailable and of the lads who has done so well at the back unavailable... Ballard is a player we don't mention much because he's had a longer-term injury but I see him walking around our training ground and he's like a man mountain.

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"He's a young man but he is massive, mobile and good with the ball.

"My Blackburn Rovers team played against him when he was at Millwall last year and what a good footballer he is. We've got some really key footballers unavailable and when they come back that will of course strengthen the team. We're looking forward to having a full-strength squad at some point this season but we understand that it rotates, often players get fit as others get injured, that's just part of the game."

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Having impressed in recent weeks Luke O'Nien looks set to retain his place for Preston's visit, though Bailey Wright will be available again after a short absence for personal reasons.