Sunderland’s injury list remains lengthy but David Moyes’ matchday options have increased ahead of the Premier League run-in.
Victor Anichebe, Paddy McNair, Lee Cattermole, Duncan Watmore and Jack Rodwell remain unavailable.
But Jan Kirchhoff is close to a return having resumed full training, Jordan Pickford was back between the sticks at Everton with Papy Djilobodji available after completing his four-game ban.
The Black Cats bench has looked stronger in recent weeks, leaving Moyes with scope to make changes ahead of the huge game at home to Manchester City.
With only 12 games to play and the club three points from safety, every game is crucial.
We look at the selection issues facing Moyes ahead of Sunday’s encounter at the Stadium of Light.
Jordan is first Pick:
An easy selection for Moyes, with Pickford restored to the starting line-up at Goodison Park after two months out with a knee injury.
Vito Mannone, who had started the previous nine games in his absence, wasn’t even on the bench at Everton due to illness. He is set to return to the squad, with third-choice Mika missing out.
But Pickford will remain in goal after recovering from a nervy start against the Toffees. Moyes is a huge fan of the England Under-21 international and his agility, shot-stopping and pin-point distribution make it impossible to leave him out.
Defensive headache for Moyes:
Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne. Just some of the City names to strike fear into any defence.
Against Southampton, Sunderland’s defence was woeful. It was much-improved against Everton on Saturday, led by veteran skipper John O’Shea who had endured an afternoon to forget against the Saints.
On-loan Jason Denayer would have started against Everton but illness forced his late withdrawal. He won’t return this weekend either given Sunderland play his parent club.
The full-backs pick themselves but Moyes does have other options in central defence.
Does he keep faith with the back four of Billy Jones, O’Shea, Lamine Kone and Bryan Oviedo that looked far more organised and compact at Goodison or bring Djilobodji or Joleon Lescott into the fold and revert to a back three?
Moyes faced a defensive crisis at the turn of the year but his options are stronger now.
Expect the Sunderland boss to keep faith with the back four, with more legs in midfield to help give better protection and get Sunderland higher up the pitch.
Injection of pace and energy needed to flat midfield:
Sunderland lost to Everton after losing the midfield battle.
Tom Davies, Ross Barkley and Idrissa Gana Gueye ran the show, with Darron Gibson, Didier Ndong and Seb Larsson unable to get a foothold and make a real impact.
Sunderland were sloppy in possession, laboured in their counter-attacks with the side short of pace and energy in the latter stages, especially.
Adnan Januzaj showed flashes out wide but much more is needed from him and Fabio Borini when it comes to supporting Jermain Defoe and creating chances.
Moyes will have to make midfield changes if Sunderland are to stand a chance of getting anything against City, who will look to pass them into submission.
Moyes may have been tempted to play Denayer in the holding role against City but he is unavailable so has to look elsewhere.
Kirchhoff will have been back in full training for a fortnight by the time Sunday comes round and is in contention.
Moyes has to weigh up throwing him straight in after such a long spell out given he has only made eight first team appearances this season.
Instead, Moyes may look to youth with George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch both on the bench at Goodison.
Larsson has bags of experience but he has been poor in recent weeks and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Honeyman or Gooch brought into the side.
Wahbi Khazri has been out of favour all season and shows no signs of coming back into favour anytime soon, even if Sunderland could do with his creative spark.
City’s defence is fragile, Defoe could capitalise:
The first name on the teamsheet is Defoe and as much as Sunderland will be wary of the threat posed by the City forwards; the same goes for the threat posed by Sunderland’s 14-goal top scorer.
Sunderland will get opportunities against City and you’d back Defoe to take one.
What he needs is support. Defoe is fit as a fiddle but he needs more pace and energy around him to bolster Sunderland’s attack. The counter-attack against Everton was one-paced, laboured and ultimately unsuccessful.
Keen Honeyman, desperate to make an impression, would offer something different and while Sunderland won’t get out of trouble by playing a team full of youngsters, one or two could just add the bit of spark needed to kick-start the winning run Moyes – and the whole of Wearside – is banking on.
Moyes isn’t awash with players boasting great creative flair and goals but expect the Sunderland boss to tinker with his team this weekend.