KEIREN WESTWOOD is close to completing his return to full fitness – but the goalkeeper has almost certainly already played his final game for Sunderland.
Westwood suffered a recurrence of a long-term shoulder injury last November, and has been sidelined ever since as Vito Mannone has made the Black Cats’ starting spot his own.
The 29-year-old is hoping to return to full training in the next fortnight, but is extremely unlikely to dislodge Mannone from the starting line-up as Sunderland attempt to claw their way to safety in the final eight games.
And given that he is due to become a free agent at the end of the season, that will almost certainly mean that Westwood will not make another senior appearance as a Sunderland player.
Eight members of the current Black Cats squad are due to reach the end of their current deal this summer, and while final decisions will not be made until it becomes clear what league Sunderland are playing in next season, there is very little chance of Westwood remaining at the Stadium of Light.
The Republic of Ireland international has made just 23 senior starts since moving from Coventry City almost three years ago, and has seen both Mannone and Simon Mignolet consign him to the substitutes’ bench.
He remains determined to regain his fitness as quickly as possible though, as he would like to retain his place in the Ireland squad for the programme of friendly games in May and June.
“I think he's about two weeks away from full training again,” confirmed Westwood’s international team-mate, John O’Shea. “I think everything went well with the shoulder.
“Obviously for goalkeepers in particular, the shoulder is very important, so he has had to be careful with it.
“But he is working very hard on his rehab and is not too far away now. He is obviously hoping to be involved in the games during the summer.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland have been linked with a possible move for Genoa right-back Sime Vrsalijko if they remain in the top-flight.
Having appointed Hans Gillhaus as their new European scout, the Black Cats continue to track continental targets despite new sporting director, Lee Congerton, claiming the club would attempt to sign more British players on his watch.
Italian media outlets have credited Sunderland with an interest in Vrsalijko, a Croatia international who left Dinamo Zagreb in a £3.5m deal last summer.