PHIL BARDSLEY will play in a behind-closed-doors game at the Academy of Light next week as he makes his first steps back towards fitness but Wes Brown has suffered a further injury setback.
Neither Bardsley (ankle) nor Brown (knee) has figured in Sunderland’s 2012-13 campaign so far but while progress has been slower than expected, Bardsley at least is closing in on a return and is targeting a competitive return for Sunderland’s Under 21 side at Stoke City a week on Monday.
The right-back has not kicked a ball in anger for the Black Cats since the game against his former club Manchester United on the last day of last season, having suffered an ankle injury in only his second day back in pre-season training.
That injury – which eventually required surgery – meant he missed Sunderland’s entire pre-season campaign and the first two months of the Premier League season so far.
But O’Neill says there is now light at the end of the tunnel for the 27-year-old.
“Bardsley is making really decent progress and we’re trying to organise a game for him next week here at the Academy, even if it is only with the kids,” said O’Neill.
“We’ve got an Under 21 game a week on Monday against Stoke and that would be a target for him as well.”
Sunderland also have an Under 21 game against Man United at Eppleton on Monday night, but that will come too early for him.
The first step is for Bardsley to up his rehabilitation work with head of performance Jim Henry next week, before playing in the training ground match and then seeing if there is any reaction.
O’Neill confirmed: “He won’t play on Monday, because he has not done enough rehabilitation as yet.
“Big Jim Henry will take him for a few days now to work on his fitness, and then we’ll set up this behind-closed-doors game next week.”