Martin O'Neill insists Aston Villa central defender Curtis Davies is on schedule to return to action early in the new year.
O'Neill has played down reports Davies has suffered a setback after undergoing shoulder surgery in September. The former West Brom skipper was scheduled to be available four months after going under the knife and O'Neill is adamant nothing has changed.
"Contrary to what was reported last week, there has been no setbacks or anything like that regarding Curtis," he said. "In fact, he is doing very well. We will wait for the specialist report, which will be coming in very shortly.
"But the time frame was always around about 16 weeks from when Curtis had the operation. It is one of those injuries where you wouldn't be tempted to rush anyone back beforehand but Curtis is doing very well.''
Davies had battled on with the shoulder problem last season but it was decided he should have surgery after it popped out of its socket three times during the pre-season Peace Cup and in the early part of the current campaign.
Davies' absence has been eased by the form in recent weeks of Carlos Cuellar. The former Rangers defender has looked more comfortable since switching from right-back to his preferred centre-back position.
O'Neill said: "Carlos has done very well. He is playing exceptionally well. I would say this is his best spell for us in terms of consistency. When everyone is fit, including Curtis Davies, there is going to be really strong competition for places.''