SUNDERLAND’S medical team have been extra cautious with Billy Jones to ensure the summer signing ends his injury misery.
Jones could make his return in Boxing Day’s visit of Hull City, with Sunderland desperate for fit full-backs.
With Sunderland awaiting news on the severity of Anthony Reveillere’s injury and Patrick van Aanholt still around a fortnight away from returning, Gus Poyet is hopeful that Jones will be available for the clash against the second-bottom Tigers.
Jones has been sidelined for longer than expected with the hamstring strain suffered in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Middlesbrough in mid-October.
But after the 27-year-old missed the start of the season with an injury to the opposite hamstring and was plagued by similar problems at West Brom last year, Sunderland have kept his recovery at a steady pace.
Poyet said: “There were a few things we did to make sure that all the steps were right. With the type of injury that (Emanuele) Giaccherini had (an ankle injury) you can really push your fitness levels high without affecting it.
“Billy’s is a hamstring problem, so there is a level that you cannot get over because there is a risk.
“You can train, but not to the standards of being able to play very quickly.
“So yes, we’ve been careful, but I think he could be close for Boxing Day.”
The lack of full-backs – after John O’Shea filled in at left-back in the 1-0 win over Newcastle – is not Poyet’s only headache for Boxing Day.
After Connor Wickham collected a fifth yellow card of the season and a subsequent one-match ban against the Magpies, Poyet must fill the void left by the 21-year-old out wide.
With the returning Giaccherini not deemed fit enough to be risked against Newcastle, Ricky Alvarez is the likeliest contender to take Wickham’s spot and Poyet admits he has been trying to find a place for the Argentine international in the starting XI.
“I need to play Ricky, I need to find a way,” said Poyet.
“I’m trying, it’s not easy and I can’t explain it to him because he’s desperate to play.
“Maybe on Boxing Day? That might be a nice day to make the starting line-up and show how important he is for us.”
Hull have injury problems of their own, with Steve Bruce forced to recall Tom Ince and Maynor Figueroa from loan spells in the Championship yesterday.
Bruce’s men have only taken two points from their last eight games, but Poyet admits he has had to brush up on the side who triumphed in all three meetings with Sunderland last season.
Poyet added: “To be honest, I watched Newcastle a lot, but I’ve only watched Hull in a couple of games.
“This week is going to be an interesting one to really concentrate on what they’ve been doing.
“They’ve been missing players, so it’s a different approach to Newcastle.”