PATRICK van Aanholt is on track to return to the first-team fold by mid-January.
Summer signing van Aanholt has been on the sidelines for more than a month after requiring surgery on the shoulder he dislocated in the victory at Crystal Palace.
But the left-back has been making good progress in his recovery and is due to begin running next week, and could even play some part in full training by the end of the year.
That should see van Aanholt back in first-team contention by the middle of next month, which was the best-case scenario for the Dutchman’s return after Sunderland’s medical team decided he needed to go under the knife.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet said: “I think it’s going to be around mid-January, but I’ve got a feeling that he’ll be getting close to training with us before the end of the year.
“Maybe he can do things which are non-contact at first. That would be a great advantage for us.
“He’s desperate to come back and it’s an injury that if you look at him now, he’s got nothing wrong with him.
“He’s working normally and he’ll start running next week because he needed the full range of movement to start running.
“After that, it’s pain, contact and how he copes with it.
“Can he start taking throw-ins early for example? That’s something we need to look at.”
Bosman signing Anthony Reveillere has impressed in the left-back spot during van Aanholt’s absence, despite being a right-back by trade.
But Poyet admits that Sunderland have missed the attacking contributions of absent pair van Aanholt, and fellow full-back Billy Jones, now back in full training after a hamstring strain.
With Sunderland routinely deploying three central midfielders under Poyet, the full-backs are a crucial cog in the Black Cats’ attacking threat, yet both Reveillere and Santiago Vergini are more defensive-minded.
“In our system, the central midfield position is very important, but the full-backs are right behind that,” added Poyet.
“We don’t have that at the moment.
“We’ve got a different kind of approach because of Santi and Anthony.
“We’ve had to adapt to that and how we play.
“That’s maybe why we don’t get in many advanced positions wide.”