Vito Mannone will make a welcome return from injury tonight when he goes between the sticks in Sunderland Under-23s’ Checkatrade Trophy clash with Notts County.
The keeper has been out of action for 12 weeks after tearing elbow ligaments in training back in August.
But the club’s number one is now fit to play and will wear the gloves this evening at the Stadium of Light in the Group F clash against the League Two club (kick-off 7.30pm).
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Mannone is just a part of a strong senior contingent expected to play for the U23 side.
Sweden midfielder Seb Larsson will continue his comeback from knee surgery by starting for Robbie Stockdale’s team, while Belgian internationals Jason Denayer and Adnan Januzaj are both likely to feature.
The first-team coach said: “We’ll have some senior players playing.
“Obviously, Seb is still on his recovery. Vito will play, and I’m looking at maybe Jason getting some game-time.
“Adnan is one we’ll make a late decision on – we’ll see what we think is best for him at this moment in time.”
While Jordan Pickford is in outstanding form, and most certainly undroppable for now or the foreseeable future, having Mannone back is a massive filip to boss David Moyes and the squad.
It will keep the England keeper on his toes, not that he would appear to need competition, and brings vital experience to the squad.
The Italian, who played the first two Premier League games of the season, was made number one by Sam Allardyce after Christmas, with previous first-choice Costel Pantilimon moving to Watford.
Mannone played a key part in Sunderland’s fight for survival and that experience could prove vital again, though he may have to bide his time.
But, for now, this game presents the chance for the ex-Arsenal goalie to make his first steps towards a resumption in the Premier League squad.
“Vito’s been back training 10 days to two weeks,” said Stockdale.
“It was a nasty injury actually, an unfortunate accident in the last minute of training.
“Vito will make his comeback as part of his rehab and he adds a little bit of experience to our team tonight.”
So, too, will Larsson, who got through the first half with no ill-effects in the Premier League Cup on Friday night against Blackburn.
“Seb played 45 against Blackburn, so we’re looking to increase that,” added Stockdale.
“I’ll be very much dictated by what Seb feels like on the pitch.
“I’m not putting a time limit on him.
“If he can play the full game, he plays the full game – if he’s got an hour in him, we’ll do an hour.
“But sometimes I think if you tell a senior pro he’s only playing a half or an hour, it almost says to him that he just needs to do enough for that [period].
“We want to push him on and I trust Seb enough to say ‘I’ve done my bit there, that’s no problem’.”
Denayer came on for the last 18 minutes on Saturday at Bournemouth – his first action since an adductor muscle injury for Belgium U21s in the last international window.
Januzaj was given the final 20 minutes in the home defeat to Arsenal after recovering from an ankle problem and, like Denayer, could do with some time out on the park tonight.