SUNDERLAND are using Lee Cattermole’s suspension to patch up the midfielder for the Tyne-Wear derby.
Cattermole will miss new boss Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland bow at West Ham tomorrow, as he serves the second game of his two-match ban.
However, Cattermole’s enforced absence has provided an opportunity for Sunderland’s medical team to ensure the 26-year-old is fully fit for the final eight games of the season.
Cattermole spent the first two months of 2015 on the treatment table with groin and knee problems, which the Teessider has still been feeling in his three games since returning to action.
None are serious, yet Sunderland have used Cattermole’s break from first-team action to fine-tune his fitness ahead of his return against Newcastle United in a fortnight.
The Teessider proved to be a huge miss for ex-boss Gus Poyet at the turn of the year and his absence was similarly noticeably in Sunderland’s capitulation against Villa last weekend.
But Cattermole is one of three players definitely ruled out of the trip to West Ham, as Advocaat begins his nine-game spell to keep Sunderland in the Premier League.
Emanuele Giaccherini is out for the season, while Will Buckley continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Buckley’s campaign is not over though, with the ex-Brighton winger still hopeful of featuring under Advocaat and recovering from the problem which has kept him sidelined since January.
Advocaat, who must make a decision on whether to involve Adam Johnson after his club suspension was lifted, also has concerns over John O’Shea and Seb Larsson at Upton Park, with the experienced pair both having a limited involvement in training this week.
O’Shea – the only player who has completed every minute of Premier League action so far this season – has been carrying a knock for several weeks.
Larsson, meanwhile, received a nasty gash to his ankle against Villa which required stitches and saw him limping markedly afterwards.
However, with Advocaat’s options limited, both O’Shea and Larsson are expected to remain in the starting XI against the Hammers.