Sunderland boss gives encouraging Duncan Watmore update and assesses big Aiden McGeady decision
Jack Ross says Duncan Watmore could return to Sunderland training this week, raising the possibility of a play-off return.
The Black Cats were frustrated by Portsmouth goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray in a 1-1 draw on Saturday, meaning their automatic promotion hopes are all but over.
Watmore suffered what could have been a season-ending injury just moments after scoring his first league goal of the season at Wycombe Wanderers in early March.
However, the likely extension to the campaign now gives him a chance of returning.
Ross says there will be 'no pressure' on the 25-year-old.
"Saturday was probably edging towards the healthiest we've been all season," Ross said.
"So those increased options will help us going forward. Duncan Watmore is also getting close to fitness, it's ironic we're at such a late stage of the season and probably the healthiest we've been which will stand us in good stead.
"We're hoping Duncan return to some form of part training with us in the next week. So if the season does extend, he would be starting to work towards full training. How close he would be to being involved, we'd have to wait and see. Even that would be a bonus because we thought the season was over for him.
"The thing is, we've always wanted to give him the summer off because he hasn't had one for quite a few years because of all his injuries, but he's ahead of schedule," Ross added.
"There's no pressure on him but that may be an added bonus for him."
With two games left in the season, Ross now faces a balancing act between finishing the regular season on a high and getting his squad in prime condition for a potential play-off campaign.
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The biggest call will be over Aiden McGeady, who has been playing despite a broken bone in his foot.
Saturday was one of his most fluent performances since suffering the injury against Accrington Stanley and Ross has not ruled out the prospect of him playing a part this week.
"We will look at him on a day to day basis," Ross said.
"Even on Friday we had a conversation and he is improving. He did terrifically well to get through 90 minutes but with the desire he had to produce that kind of performance, we'll chat again at the beginning of the week.
"We'll look how everyone is physically ahead of Fleetwood, with the games coming round so quickly," he added.
"We want to win so that we go into the last weekend still with that opportunity. Of course we understand it is a long shot, but we want to finish the season in the best possible way.
Ross was also pleased to see Chris Maguire back in action.
The popular forward spurned a good opening late in the game but looked somewhere near his influential best during a cameo from the bench.
"It's nice to have him back, to suffer a leg break so late in the season, there's always that fear he won't play again in the season," Ross said.
"To have him available is a real bonus for us. He's a good option for us to have off the bench, because he's someone who can give us that little bit of spark. That time he had on the park today will really help him. He looked rusty at first but then really found his way into the game."