Sunderland boss reveals injury update on ex-Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur duo

Tony Mowbray says his Sunderland squad should be in a far better place after the World Cup break as he prepares to welcome back a raft of key senior players.

While the visit of Millwall to the Stadium of Light on December 3rd is expected to come too soon for Dan Ballard, the head coach is hopeful that he could otherwise have something close to a clean bill of health for that game.

Sunderland were heavily depleted at the back as they secured a crucial 2-1 win at Birmingham City on Friday night, with youngster Zak Johnson the only defender named on the bench.

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Remarkably, Niall Huggins completed almost 100 minutes in his first senior game for over a year.

His earlier-than-expected introduction was forced by an injury to Dennis Cirkin, but Mowbray revealed after the game that it is not a serious one and shouldn't lead to the left back missing any competitive football.

The head coach isn't sure yet how match fit his returning players will be, and the involvement of Bailey Wright and Jewison Bennette in the World Cup could impact their involvement against Millwall, but generally a challenging injury picture is improving significantly.

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"Dennis has got a calf problem, we think it'll be two weeks until he is back fit so I'm hopeful that by the time we play Millwall on December 3rd he will be available," Mowbray said.

"Luke of course will be back for that game after his suspension.

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Sunderland defender Dennis Cirkin

"Aji Alese I think will be available for the game, with Dan Ballard it's going to be touch-and-go but it might be a bit too soon for him to feature.

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"Lynden Gooch will definitely be available, and Ross Stewart should be available, albeit like with Ellis we're not sure if he'll be ready to start straight away.

"It's looking better, we have got some pretty big footballers for our club who have been unavailable and the players deserve credit for digging in and trying to find a way to win football matches."

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Sunderland's win at St Andrews means that Mowbray's side will head into the World Cup break clear of the relegation zone regardless of what happens in the Saturday's Championship fixtures, and hopefully having drawn a line under a challenging period where they have had to play without key players in both boxes.

Mowbray said his side, who scored another two excellent goals before coming through a late siege of their box, had shown another side to their game.

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"It has been frustrating for us, I know Ellis is back now but he could barely jog in that last ten/fifteen minutes, but we had to keep him on because they're putting big players on and we needed him for set plays. In the end, he just couldn't keep going and he had to come off.

"We found a way to see it out, some big blocks and saves late on. It's great because we're such a talented team and you've seen us score some amazing goals, but we had to find a way in the last half an hour and we did."