LEE JOHNSON is hoping that both Tom Flanagan and Conor McLaughlin will be available before the end of the regular League One season, which would enable them to take part in the play-offs if, as looks likely, Sunderland miss out on a place in the top two.

Flanagan has made just three league appearances since the turn of the year, with a persistent foot problem leading to a series of related injury issues down the left-hand side of his body.

McLaughlin suffered a recurrence of a hernia problem during the warm-up ahead of this month’s defeat at Wigan, and has been forced to sit out Sunderland’s last three games.

It was initially feared both players might be forced to miss the rest of the season, but while they will not be considered for Saturday’s home game with Accrington Stanley, they are both on the road to recovery.

With the play-offs not due to start until the middle of next month, they are hoping to be able to feature in the end-of-season shootout if required, with their potential availability a major boost given the lack of defensive options currently available.

“Things went really well with Tom,” said Johnson. “We had the third opinion, so while we initially had some bad news, it’s almost come right round to good news again. I think he’s going to have to crack on with it now.

“I think he feels comfortable with it – he’s been fitted with some orthotics. He’s out there, and while he’s not actually training with the first team yet, he’s out there on the grass with the rehab guys, working hard.

“It’s a strange moment because it’s a bit of a race against time to get him fit because we know how important he can be for us. We’ve got the same with Conor McLaughlin, who is obviously another very important player for us.

“If you imagine those two back, it gives you a lot of flexibility to be able to push Luke (O’Nien) or Max (Power) into midfield and really work towards what we’ve tried to build in terms of energy levels and our press. We’ve had to adjust, but now any player back is very welcome.”

Aiden McGeady’s ankle issue is also on the mend, and having been forced to miss Tuesday’s draw with Hull, there is a chance the influential Irishman could be back in the squad for Saturday’s game with an Accrington side that still harbour play-off hopes of their own.

“I’d put Aiden at 50-50 (for the weekend),” said Johnson. “He’s tough, like I’ve said, so he wants to play. He’s still very bruised, but at the same time it is a superficial injury.

“It’s not anything bone-related or ligament-related, so if he can handle the pain of smashing one in from 25 yards, hopefully in the top corner, then he can play. It’s as simple as that.”