Jack Ross gives hugely encouraging Duncan Watmore update and explains why Sunderland return could be imminent
Jack Ross admits that Duncan Watmore has given him a big decision to make ahead of the play-off semi final second leg on Thursday night.
Watmore is ahead of schedule as he recovers from the ankle injury suffered at Wycombe Wanderers in March.
Sunderland had initially expected that problem to end his season but their play-off particpation and the player's impressive recovery could see him involved in some capacity at Fratton Park.
"He's feeling good," Ross said.
"He's obviously ahead of schedule and looks good and bright and positive in training, so he's probably forced his way into the reckoning much more than we would have imagined.
"So it gives us something else to ponder ahead of the game on Thursday."
Ross had hoped last week that Watmore would continue to improve and remarked that depending on how the first leg panned out, he could be tempted to use the 25-year-old.
The tie is finely poised and so Ross is tempted to include him in his 18.
The popular forward would offer a fresh attacking option if Sunderland do need a goal at any stage, but his ability to stretch the game and play on the counter could also come in handy should his side have to absorb and release any pressure late on.
"He's come much more into the thoughts," Ross said.
"He's looked really good in training, he's come back fit and healthy from that ankle injury.
"He's not been at all tentative, he's been really bubbly and bright.
"We did a little bit of big pitch stuff on Sunday with the players who hadn't been involved on Saturday night, and he looked good again.
"For those reasons [he's being considered] and I think that the second leg could potentially be more of a game for him as well, to maybe be involved in the squad because of the way it might pan out either way."
Ross is potentially at full strength for the second leg, with Aiden McGeady again facing a late call on his availability as he battles an ongoing foot problem.
The only other absentee had been Reece James, but the left back has returned to training after a groin problem.
After a positive display at the Stadium of Light on Saturday night, Ross is feeling positive but admits he now has a number of difficult calls to make.
"It's just nice to be fit and healthy," he said.
"Training was just one of those days on Wednesday, the sun shines, it's warm, generally there's that feel, it was really good.
"It was one of those days that as a manager you're looking at and thinking, it's good but you're also thinking, because there's so many players right at it and want to play.
"It's encouraging but makes your job a little harder."
One of his biggest calls will be on Chris Maguire, who lit up the first leg with his exceptional winning goal.
Maguire has been effective of late coming on from the bench but Ross admits he has put his hand up for a start.
"He did [put his hand up]," Ross said.
"All you can ask of a player is that they put their hand up and affect the game.
"The one thing Chris possesses and it's why I spoke of what a boost it was to have him back, is moments of real quality that he's shown throughout his career.
"He thrives on pressure and big games, he's given himself every opportunity."