Sunderland prospect George Honeyman will not be rushed in his recovery from injury after a three-month lay-off.
Honeyman made his first appearance of the season for Sunderland Under-21s in Monday night’s draw with Borussia Monchengladbach after coming off the bench for the final half-hour.
The midfielder - who made his first-team bow for Sunderland in last season’s FA Cup fifth round defeat at Bradford - was forced to spend six weeks without doing any training after suffering a back injury in the summer.
But Honeyman has worked his way back to return to the fray, albeit U21 coach Robbie Stockdale admits he is not yet ready to challenge for a starting spot.
“He looked quite sharp for the first 15 minutes when he came on on Monday and then his legs started to get a bit heavy,” said Stockdale.
“He’s been out for a long time since pre-season.
“It was good to get him on the pitch and he’ll be better for it.
“But we’ll have to build up his fitness through minutes.
“He’s not ready to start just yet, but it’s good to see him back out there.”
The draw against Monchengladbach left Sunderland needing just a point from the clash against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, November 11, to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Premier League International Cup.
After suffering just one defeat since March, Stockdale’s side top the U21 Premier League too, with Liverpool visiting the Stadium of Light on Sunday (kick-off 3pm).
Season card holders can gain free entry, with other tickets priced at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.