SUNDERLAND will be without Lynden Gooch for up to a month after the midfielder was sidelined because of an ankle injury.

Gooch has been struggling with an ankle issue for a number of weeks, and the Black Cats’ medical team decided to send him to a specialist for an assessment yesterday.

That resulted in a recommendation that the midfielder should have a period of rest to enable his injury problem to settle, and while an injection should hopefully speed up his recovery, he is still expected to miss between two and four weeks, ruling him out of up to eight league and cup matches.

“Goochy went to see a specialist, and he feels he needs a period of rest with his ankle injury,” confirmed Sunderland boss Phil Parkinson, ahead of tomorrow night's League One game at Fleetwood Town. “He’s going to have an injection (tomorrow), which we hope will speed that recovery up.

“But we’re probably looking at two to four weeks where we’ll be without Lynden, which is a blow because he’s been exceptional for us this season. We’ve got to take the advice of the specialist, and we want to make sure Lynden is right and flying when he comes back.”

Gooch’s absence from the squad that will travel to Fleetwood tomorrow opens the door for Elliot Embleton to make his first league start of the campaign.

Embleton, who started Sunderland’s Papa John’s Trophy defeat at Fleetwood’s Highbury Stadium earlier this month, was a second-half substitute in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Doncaster Rovers, going close with a low shot that flashed just past the post.

The 21-year-old was sidelined for the vast majority of last season after suffering a succession of injury issues, and while Parkinson continues to tread carefully, it feels as though Embleton is approaching a critical time in his Sunderland career.

Long touted as a player of considerable potential, Embleton is in the final year of his current Black Cats deal, and while there have been reasons for his failure to establish himself as a regular first-teamer under first Jack Ross and then Parkinson, he needs to start proving he can make an impact at League One level.

“With Embo, he’s a player who just had a very difficult year,” said Parkinson. “You can’t really say anything other than that with him.

“His development in terms of his loan move and his international games was great, but unfortunately he’s had the setback of missing a year of football. As I say every week with him, there is a process of getting him robust enough for league football, but he is a player who has done that before with his loan at Grimsby.

“In this next eight days, Embo’s going to be expected to get some game time, and we’re looking forward to seeing him out there.”

While Gooch will be sidelined for the next few weeks, some of Sunderland’s other injury problems are easing with Jordan Willis, Morgan Feeney and Callum McFadzean all improving.

McFadzean damaged his hamstrings in the Papa John’s Trophy defeat at Fleetwood, and has done some extra work with Sunderland’s fitness team to try to guard against a repeat of the problem.

“Jordan is making good progress,” said Parkinson. “He’s been out running. Morgan and Callum are both back in training, along with Aiden O’Brien, who just had a bit of tightness in his groin last week so missed last weekend.

“It’s good to get Callum back. He did really well in the two games he featured in, and it was obviously frustrating that he got injured. But like we said at the time, it was only a minor problem. We’ve just made sure he’s done some work with the fitness guys to make sure he’s ready.”

Tomorrow’s game sees Parkinson come up against Fleetwood manager Joey Barton for the second time in a month. Barton’s Newcastle United connections mean he is rarely short of a dismissive comment aimed in Sunderland’s direction, but Parkinson has been impressed with his impact on a Fleetwood side that made the play-off semi-finals last season.

“He’s got a job in Division One, at a club that’s probably not perceived as one of the bigger clubs, and he’s learning his trade, which is good,” he said. “There’s probably a lot of players who played at the top who think a big job is just going to fall into their lap, but it doesn’t work like that.

“I think he’ll have been disappointed last year when they got the opportunity against Wycombe and didn’t take it. But even going back to when I was at Bolton, Fleetwood are a team that have been in and around the play-off area for a number of years. This year, they recruited well and they’re up there again.”

Sunderland (probable, 3-5-2): Matthews; McLaughlin, Wright, Flanagan; O’Nien, Scowen, Leadbitter, Embleton, Hume; O’Brien, Wyke.