JACK ROSS insists Elliot Embleton still has a long-term future at Sunderland, but the Black Cats boss is delighted to see the 19-year-old back at Grimsby Town for the second half of the season.

Embleton extended his loan spell at Blundell Park by another four months earlier this week, having scored four goals in 19 senior appearances during the first half of the campaign.

The Durham-born youngster has represented England at Under-19 and Under-20 level, and is regarded as one of the brightest teenage prospects in the country.

However, Ross was disappointed at his lack of senior action when he took over at the Stadium of Light in the summer, and is delighted he has agreed to remain in League Two rather than return to the spend the second half of the season on the periphery of the first-team picture at the Stadium of Light.

“I had him in here last week,” said the Sunderland boss. “He trained with us, and we had a good chat because I wanted to speak to him face-to-face. I like him. We’ve spoken quite a few times one-to-one, even prior to him going, about what was best for him.

“I think he’ll get to the end of this season having had 30 or 40 first-team games, and if I’d come into the job and he’d been in that position, it would have been much better for him because I’d have looked at him then as more of an experienced player.

“The fact is he didn’t have that. I’m not saying that makes him any less of a good player – he just hadn’t played any first-team football. If he was to come back, he would be in my squad and he would probably get opportunities. But how frequent they would be, I can’t say for certain because we’ve got good players at the club in that area of the pitch.

“He is a good player as well, and although you can’t guarantee anything because he’s still got to prove himself at Grimsby as well, I think he’s given himself a greater opportunity of playing week in, week out. I think we’ve seen this as the best for him.

“He’s been brave to do that, but I do think this season is going to be really good for him. He’s a player I want to keep at the club, and a player I think can play a big part in our future progression because I think he has enough quality to do that. And I think the games he gets this season will help him enormously in that regard.”

While Embleton has remained with his loan employers, Luke Molyneux is back on Wearside after a temporary stint at National League side Gateshead.

The Bishop Auckland-born 20-year-old did well at the International Stadium, and could now be set for a move to a side in the Football League.

“At Luke’s age, we want to avoid players being here and not playing first-team football,” said Ross. “Some should have had first-team football before. We’ll assess Luke in the next couple of weeks and (Benji) Kimpioka falls into that category too.

“He’s younger, but I do feel getting games at his age is important for him. I’m reluctant to do it too early because we may still need to use him more in the first team. But the model is to try and give much more game time to these players than they’ve maybe had before.”

Sunderland’s senior squad return to action at Charlton Athletic today with Lee Cattermole’s suspension meaning Ross will have to make at least one change from the side that won at Blackpool on New Year’s Day.

Dylan McGeouch is set to return to the starting line-up, and Bryan Oviedo could also replace Reece James at left-back after missing the trip to Bloomfield Road.

Duncan Watmore returns to the squad, although it remains to be seen whether the forward starts.

Sunderland (probable, 4-4-2): McLaughlin; O’Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, Oviedo; Gooch, McGeouch, Power, McGeady; Wyke, Maja.