BILLY JONES will be available to face Middlesbrough next Wednesday, with the concussion protocol agreed by the FA and Premier League enabling the Sunderland defender to return to training at the end of this week.
Jones suffered concussion when he fell awkwardly following a challenge with West Ham defender Arthur Masuaku during the closing stages of the Black Cats’ 2-2 draw at the weekend.
He was stretchered from the field and transferred to hospital, but was discharged on Saturday night suffering no after-effects from the incident.
Had Sunderland been in action this weekend, his participation would have been in serious doubt as the Premier League’s concussion guidelines dictate that a player should not feature in another game within six days of suffering a loss of consciousness and should be reintroduced to training on a gradual basis to guard against further problems.
However, Sunderland have a weekend off because of Arsenal’s involvement in the FA Cup semi-finals, so Jones will be available for the club’s next game, which will see them travel to Teesside for a Tees-Wear derby with Middlesbrough in seven days’ time.
The derby encounter could hardly be more important, with Sunderland currently nine points adrift of safety with six games remaining. That situation could have worsened by the time they kick-off at the Riverside, as Middlesbrough, Swansea and Hull are all due to play this weekend.
David Moyes continues to insist that Sunderland can still clamber to safety, but the Black Cats boss is planning for all eventualities and has been running the rule over potential signings in the event of a drop into the Championship.
Moyes was in the crowd at Blackburn Rovers’ 1-1 draw with Bristol City on Monday, and is understood to have been scouting the home side’s on-loan Southampton striker Sam Gallagher.
Gallagher scored Blackburn’s equaliser in the draw, taking his tally for the season to 11 Championship goals from 40 appearances.
The 21-year-old, who has made three Premier League starts for Southampton, is expected to leave St Mary’s on a permanent basis this summer, and while he is unlikely to secure a move to the top-flight, a number of Championship clubs are expected to fight for his services.
Sunderland could be one of those clubs, with Moyes expected to embark on a radical rebuilding project if he finds himself presiding over a second-tier side in the summer.
Sunderland will lose their three loan players – Adnan Januzaj, Jason Denayer and Javier Manquillo – whatever division they are playing in next season, and will also offload Adam Matthews, who has spent the current campaign on loan at Bristol City.
Seven players are out of contract in the summer – John O’Shea, Joleon Lescott, Jan Kirchhoff, Seb Larsson, Will Buckley, Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe – and the vast majority are expected to leave in the event of relegation.