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As Jan Kirchhoff returns to training, Lee Cattermole may not be far behind & who else looked fit today?

News from today's open training session as fans enjoyed a half-term treat in the spring-like weather basking Wearside. Jan Kirchhoff made a headline appearance at the Stadium of Light this afternoon in his return to fitness; but those missing have us speculating just as much as those who were on the pitch.

Sunderland v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Sunderland welcomed fans into the Stadium of Light this afternoon to run the rule over a first team training session. As Wearside basked in unseasonably spring-like weather for mid-February, fans and families enjoyed meeting their heroes and watching the players limber up on the pitch.

As well as the good feel about the club today, a few loose conclusions might be drawn on who might be available for the trip to Everton on Saturday and fixtures beyond the weekend as the relegation run-in begins in earnest.

But first, let's deal with Lee Cattermole. Strange rumours abounded at the weekend that the Sunderland stalwart is on the verge of announcing his retirement from football, unable to return to full fitness from the injury problems which have plagued him this season. Or so the gossip claimed.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

The claims surrounding Cattermole's future appear to have started with some rogue posting on social media and like the best 'fake news' a slightly plausible prognosis saw the rumour grow during the course of the weekend, reaching a crescendo by Sunday.

There was no basis to it of course and sources close to the player have confirmed he is in fact nearing fitness and may be back limbering up with the first team within the next week or so.

The fact that Cattermole wasn't at today's open workout at the Stadium of Light may yet add a last gasp flicker to the flame of gossip, but as he is not yet due back in full training his absence is hardly noteworthy.

What is noteworthy of course, is Jan Kirchhoff's return to fitness. The German was the headline act today as Sunderland flung open the doors to welcome fans into the stadium to watch the players. The midfielder's return to full training indicates he is likely near a return to first team action.

Sunderland's injury problems this season are well documented. Jan Kirchhoff has only featured in seven league games - missing chunks of the campaign with hamstring problems and most recently suffering with knee cartilage damage which required surgery.

Before today, the 26-year-old was last seen at the Stadium of Light when Chelsea were the visitors in mid-December and he was initially ruled out for three months. So, coming up ten weeks since he picked up his latest injury, Kirchhoff is pretty much bang on schedule for a return within planned timescales.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Kirchoff's return will provide a timely boost to the centre of midfield which has been a problem area for Sunderland all season. David Moyes has been forced to experiment with various configurations with varying degrees of success. Darron Gibson was signed from Everton in the January window to add another option in the middle, but the Republic of Ireland international looked rusty on his home debut against Southampton last time out - understandable for a player who had only managed a couple of cup appearances before he moved from Everton.

Sunderland only have three confirmed fixtures between now and the end of March. The Tees-Wear derby which was scheduled for a couple of weeks time has been postponed pending rearrangement due to Middlesbrough progressing to the FA Cup Quarter Final. And that may be good news for the likes of Kirchhoff and Cattermole as well as some of the other players currently in the queue for the treatment room at the Stadium of Light.

Once April arrives, Sunderland already have six games pencilled in and this will be the month when the survival equation will likely be solved. That said, the trip to Arsenal on the 22nd looks like being one which will shift assuming the Gunners can beat Sutton United and then Lincoln City in the FA Cup to progress to the semi-finals which take place that weekend.

Jordan Pickford and Jack Rodwell might both be in contention for the trip to Everton on Saturday. The former appeared at the Stadium of Light today to a warm welcome.

David Moyes has a big call to make ahead of his return to the club at which he spent more than a decade as manager. The Sunderland boss will have to decide whether to recall Pickford or retain Vito Mannone in goal. The Italian has been desperately inconsistent since his recall to the squad but he has managed a couple of clean sheets.

Jack Rodwell was perhaps conspicuous by his absence today though. The 26-year-old midfielder did not train with the rest of the lads - a hint perhaps that he won't make the squad for Goodison Park after all.

Finally, Lynden Gooch made an appearance this afternoon. The 21-year-old American obviously hasn't travelled with the Under-23 side who face Tottenham this evening. Might he be in line for a first team recall?

AFC Bournemouth v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

The midfielder was an unused substitute for the goalless draw with Spurs at the end of January but was not with the squad for the subsequent games against Crystal Palace and Southampton. Gooch last made an appearance for the senior side back in November for the trip to Anfield, but let's hope his touch improves before Saturday:

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