Aji Alese is edging closer to fitness but Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray feels the play-off semi-final games against Luton Town will come too soon for him and fellow defender Dan Ballard. Alese has been out of action since suffering a thigh injury in the Black Cats’ defeat against Stoke City at the beginning of March, while Ballard has been absent since picking up a hamstring issue while away on international duty with Northern Ireland at the end of March.
Alese was ruled out for the remainder of the season but has been out on the grass at the Academy of Light in recent days working with the physios. Mowbray had hoped that Ballard might be fit enough to play some part in the play-off semi-finals but those hopes have been dashed, although whether he would have a chance if Sunderland reach the final in a fortnight’s time is another matter.
Asked about the pair today, Mowbray said: “I think Dan’s too far away at this moment to make these games [against Luton]. They come pretty quickly – Saturday-Tuesday – so I don’t think Dan Ballard is going to make it.
“Aji has been out there with the physios today, side-footing volleys and running in and out of cones, but he hasn’t kicked a ball for nine weeks. I don’t think [he could play].
“The team have done amazingly well and have just won away to Preston 3-0. I’m not sitting here thinking we desperately need to get these players back in straight away.
“They would help, of course, and it would be great to be able to put a player or two on the bench that would enable us to get them on if we needed to see a game out. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”
Mowbray is currently sweating on the fitness of two more defenders, Lynden Gooch and Dennis Cirkin, after they picked up injuries in that final day win at Preston on Monday. Gooch came off with a slight hamstring problem while Cirkin damaged his ankle.
Neither has trained this week but they are expected to take part in a session tomorrow, after which a decision will be made as to whether they could play against Luton at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The return leg at Kenilworth Road will take place on Tuesday night, with kick-off at 8pm.
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