David Moyes has suggested the recent fixture break has been beneficial in getting key duo Victor Anichebe and Lee Cattermole near to playing first team football, but that neither are likely to play much of a part in tomorrow's trip to Watford.
Anichebe returned from America during the week where he's been working with a specialist to speed up his rehabilitation from a knee injury which curtailed his last return to fitness.
The 28-year-old forward was a second half substitute against West Brom at the Hawthorns in January but suffered a knock to his knee which turned out to be serious.
Moyes told BBC Radio Newcastle that Anichebe's importance to the team may override his lack of match sharpness as Sunderland face three crucial games inside eight days,
Victor's trained, he came back from America last weekend, but his knee is still a problem because he's probably suffered with it for ten weeks. He's certainly not physically fit, but we need him.
And with Lee Cattermole declaring himself mentally ready to lead the charge in the relegation run-in, his manager has been quick to dampen anticipation around the influence Sunderland's talismanic midfielder can be expected to have as he returns from a lay-off stretching back to September,
Lee Cattermole has been out for nine months. It would be stupidity to think he will come in and hit the ground running. But we need him as well.
Moyes acknowledges that with the games running out and Sunderland some seven points adrift of safety, with a worse goal difference than every team bar Swansea and Hull in the relegation battle, he will need to make some tough calls on team selection in the coming weeks and take a risk or two,
We've tried to get people back quicker than we would normally do. Lee had a bad injury.....to ask someone to come in in April and make a difference is a tough call.
I don't think that expectation should be put on Lee Cattermole to do that.
We've got to be careful because not having Catts is not the reason we're in the position we're in.
But Jermain Defoe's goal-scoring exploits for England have given Sunderland and the striker himself something of a boost.
The 34-year-old hasn't scored in the Premier League since the four-goal drubbing of Crystal Palace in February. Indeed the Black Cats haven't hit the back of the next in their last four games so Defoe's return to scoring on the biggest stage is a reason for optimism that Sunderland's fire-power may receive a lift tomorrow at Watford. Moyes said,
I looked at Jermain in training yesterday and as a lot of players do when they come back from international football - with a spring in his step and a brightness about them - especially for Jermain when you've played for England and scored a goal. Hopefully we can turn that into goals for Sunderland.