JACK ROSS will only be attempting to make one signing during the January transfer window, provided all his current first-team players remain at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland return to action as they host Walsall in an FA Cup second-round replay this evening, with Lee Cattermole and Duncan Watmore set to feature in the starting line-up. A third long-term absentee, Charlie Wyke, remains on track to return to the first-team squad before the end of the year.

The trio’s return provides a timely boost given Sunderland’s hectic festive schedule, and has helped persuade Ross not to pursue a host of potential targets ahead of the January window.

The Black Cats boss wants to sign an additional right-back, but that will be the extent of his business unless he loses any of his key performers.

That cannot be ruled out, with Josh Maja, Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume due to become free agents in the summer, and Cattermole, Aiden McGeady and Bryan Oviedo’s wages meaning Sunderland would have to listen to offers for their services. However, if no one leaves in January, Ross will not be rushing to make signings of his own.

“If the squad was to remain as it is through January, then we would look to do very little,” said the Sunderland boss, ahead of tonight’s game at the Stadium of Light. “Maybe we’d look to bring in one player in a defensive area, just to give us a little bit more depth.

“We’ve seen with Adam’s (Matthews) injury, that we’re a little bit light in that area. But the squad has done well to date, and that’s been with a fair few injuries along the way.

“We’ve got three key players coming back in Duncan, Lee and Charlie, and that should help us further. We’ve had very few occasions when we’ve had a fully-fit squad, and we’ve managed reasonably well, so I’d prefer not to do too much in January unless I had to. It’s always a very difficult window to get much right in, so I’d prefer to keep this continuity that we’ve got.”

Cattermole will make his first start for more than a month tonight, having recovered from a foot problem, while Watmore will make his second start since completing a year-long recovery from cruciate-ligament surgery, having also featured in last week’s Checkatrade Trophy win over Notts County.

Wyke has returned to training after overcoming a cruciate problem of his own, and the striker is due to step up his work at the Academy of Light in the next couple of weeks. He will not feature in the first team before Christmas, although he could be involved in a couple of practice matches, but he has been pencilled in for a senior return in the Boxing Day game against Bradford City.

“With Charlie, we’re confident that post-Portsmouth, he should be back available for first-team games,” said Ross. “We’ve got a couple of things lined up for him this week and next week, and we’re hoping that post-Christmas, that will be him back in the group and available for selection within the squad. That will be very good for us.

“If you look at Lee, Charlie and Duncan, then having the three of those players back will be great for us. To have three players of that calibre coming back into the squad is a massive boost.

“If you look at the attributes that they bring to the squad, then they bring different characteristics that we’ve not had. I’m delighted to have all three of them back around.

“Lee’s form so far this season has been great, we’ve spoken often enough about the contribution he’s made, Duncan is a really good player, and Charlie will be a good player for us. He’s looking sharp, fit and strong, and it’s not far off now that he’ll be back and available.”

Wyke only made one league start prior to suffering a recurrence of the knee problem he first sustained during pre-season, and while he scored as a substitute in the 1-1 draw with Oxford United, it is safe to say that Sunderland fans are still to see the best of the 25-year-old.

Ross shelled out £1m to sign him in the summer, and while Maja and Chris Maguire have both impressed in his absence, Wyke’s physical presence and aerial ability should enable him to add another string to Sunderland’s attacking bow.

“He brings something different,” said Ross. “We’ve said often enough that we’ve had a fair bit of similarity amongst our forward players. Individually, a lot of them have done really well, but to have that different option, whether it’s starting games or from the bench, will definitely help us.”

Matthews will miss tonight’s game after hobbling out of Saturday’s abandoned game at Accrington Stanley, but the full-back should be available for this weekend’s league game with Bristol Rovers.

That remains the priority for the week, but with tonight’s winners guaranteed a third-round trip to Bolton Wanderers, Ross is not about to start taking the FA Cup lightly.

“Like we have in all the cup competitions this season, we want to try to progress in the tournament,” he said. “We’re conscious of the fixtures we’ve had, and the fixtures we’ve got coming up. That will reflect how we rotate our squad for the game.”

Sunderland (possible, 3-4-3): Ruiter; Loovens, Ozturk, Flanagan; Mumba, Cattermole, O’Nien, Oviedo; Gooch, Sinclair, Watmore.