Jack Rodwell was back playing in a red and white shirt last night but a first team return remains a remote possibility.
The 26-year-old is still at an impasse with Chris Coleman and the club, who were left exasperated by his decision to turn down a loan move to a top-tier European side.
Early in the January window, Rodwell was offered the opportunity to walk away from his contract but responded in an interview with the Daily Mail by saying that he would only leave if another club offered an immediate return to football.
Sunderland offered him a lump sum to take the move abroad on deadline day, not the full figure left on his contract which will run for another 18 months but a substantial one, to try and force an exit.
Clearly, to turn it down is Rodwell's prerogative and Coleman will be left paying the penalty for the ludicrous deal signed off three-and-a-half years ago to bring the midfielder to the club.
Coleman has made it quite clear that he does not want players considering their future part of the first team environment as he tries to forge a real unity ahead of the relegation battle ahead.
As such, Rodwell has been training with the U23's for some time after recovering from a hamstring problem and it makes little sense to stop him building some sort of match fitness by featuring in the youth games.
Were he to reconsider his position and attempt to fight for a first team place, Coleman would be open to the conversation but it has been clear that he does not expect that to happen.
He said last Thursday: "I've not yet had a knock on the door to say 'I am ready, I want to play football'. Jack had the chance to go out this window.
"We said yeah. There was another club. I can't name the club. Jack turned that opportunity down. My office is right at the end of the hall, he knows where it is.
"I am not here to motivate this person or that person. Whatever you say you are going to do then back it up. We need all hands to the pump.
"My door hasn't been knocked, not that I know of."
There is a quite practical concern, too. Rodwell reiterated in his interview last month that he intends to relaunch his career at centre-back.
Against West Ham on Monday night he played on the left-hand side of a back three, similar to his last competitive appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy and the Premier League International Cup.
One suspects that even if he did rejoin he first team squad, he would be at best sixth choice in that role. The arrival of Ovie Ejaria in January also pushed him down the midfield pecking order. Amid all the talk of his future it is worth remembering that both in pre-season and the early stages of the campaign, Rodwell underwhelmed when on the pitch.
More significant to Chris Coleman was seeing Jonny Williams complete 90 minutes as he closes in on a return.
The 24-year-old played in an attacking midfield role and twice came close to getting on the scoresheet. Coleman spoke shortly after his arrival of the 'spark' that Williams can bring and even if his goal tally is not overly impressive, the Black Cats boss will be thrilled to have another player in his ranks who is always willing to show for the ball and try and be progressive in his actions.
Alongside Ejaria, Sunderland will hope to have a midfield that creates more and moves the ball far quicker as they look to improve their wretched form.
Jason Steele also played in the 1-0 win and U23's boss Elliott Dickman was full of praise for the senior trio.
The game also saw Connor Shields, signed from Albion Rovers on deadline day, make his debut.
Dickman said: "The senior lads – Steely, Jack Rodwell and Jonny Williams – were terrific. Jake Hackett did smashing, Connor Shields made his debut for the club and we couldn’t have asked for any more from him. Lee Connelly took his goal well but as a team we worked really hard.
"I was pleased because we have pointed the finger at the last couple of performances about commitment and team ethic, but tonight they have shown what they are about. We need to play like that now on a regular basis.”