Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole will return to action in a training ground game at the weekend as he prepares to make his latest comeback from injury.
Cattermole, 22, has been sidelined since December 28 by a back problem medics feared could develop into a stress fracture without rest. However, he returned to light training last week and has stepped things up over the last few days, and is now ready to test his fitness.
That could put him in contention for Liverpool's visit to the Stadium of Light on March 20 but, like striker Fraizer Campbell who returned from a knee injury for the reserves in midweek, he is more likely to target the trip to Manchester City at the start of next month as a return date.
Manager Steve Bruce, who hopes the midfielder will be able to line up against Manchester United reserves next week, said: "We are going to have a practice game in training on Saturday involving most of the squad and that will give some of the returning players chance to get a little match fitness.
"Lee is working with a personal fitness trainer at the moment but he will play in the game this weekend and if he comes through that okay we will look at involving him in the reserves against Manchester United.
"He has a chance of being in the squad for the Liverpool game but then there is a fortnight before we play Manchester City and we will hope to get another couple of games into him in that time so he will be ready to face City."
The Black Cats' injury problems are gradually starting to clear up with Nedum Onuoha and Bolo Zenden having resumed training after calf problems and Campbell hoping to following in the footsteps of Danny Welbeck, who was used as a substitute at Arsenal last Saturday. Both strikers are now fit after knee injuries.
Defender Michael Turner and midfielder David Meyler remain on the sidelines with the former Hull man the closer to returning, while keeper Craig Gordon is hoping a programme of exercises to strengthen his knee will fend off the prospect of surgery.
In the meantime, Belgian Simon Mignolet will continue in goal with Bruce confident in his ability.
The manager told the Sunderland Echo: "He's got a big part to play in the future of the club - we have unearthed a very good young goalkeeper.
"It's a big pat on the back to everybody who has helped get him here. The biggest compliment of all is to himself. He's a fantastic goalkeeper, although we are not surprised he's done so well because we work with him every day.
"He's brave, big and the potential is all there. He's got the makings of a very good goalkeeper."