WITH Alex Pritchard still recovering from Covid-19, Lee Johnson is worried about what he virus could do to his already thin Sunderland squad. 

Pritchard signed for the Black Cats on a two year deal earlier this month and was in pre-season training with the squad until he returned a positive test shortly before the team travelled up to Scotland for a training camp. 

Covid cases are on the rise across the country and recent figures show that in the week from 12th-18th July, the rates of positive cases in Sunderland were at 1,085 per 100,000 people, a figure of just over 1%.

Pritchard faces a race to be fit in time for the beginning of the season which starts against Wigan Athletic on 7th August, but Johnson says his roadmap back into the side could be longer than he would like it to be.

Manager Johnson said: “I think small players get fitter quicker. A lot of the sort big clunky chunky, 6ft 2 square type players takes a bit to get going.

“The first possibility would be the Hull game but even then, I reckon on the doctor’s orders, he probably wouldn’t be allowed to do much so we’ll have to see but if we can get a little bit out of him, even just fifteen minutes in the Hull game.

“He’s probably furthest behind because if you imagine Huddersfield finished but then we carried on for obviously through the play-offs and then that spell where he was trying to get a club and was having discussions, that takes time.

“He comes in, he has a couple of days training and looks like he’s sort of three or four weeks behind everybody and then bang. He’s set back another sixteen days so that one is going to be a tricky one in terms of how to engage in getting him back to top nick."

Black Cats midfielder Josh Hawkes is in training with the first-team and is looking to make impression.

However, the former Hartlepool man suffered a setback. Before Sunderland's pre-season friendly match against Spennymoor Town at the beginning of the month, Hawkes was seen leaving the pitch in the warm-up due to feeling unwell.

He returned a positive Covid test but has since returned to action and continues to impress. But like Pritchard, Covid has also set him back with his fitness.

“I think quality wise, absolutely. He’s certainly got that end product that you’re after" said Johnson.

“He can finish, he’s got a good delivery.

“He’s a little bit behind as well because he had a sixteen day spell out with Covid and now the rules change a little bit.

“It’s the same with Pritch (Alex Pritchard). If you’ve got symptoms on day seven and beyond, you then have to go for a heart screening and then you have to slowly be phased in for like another six days so rather when you had the ten days before and you get back to training, there’s now sixteen days minimum to get back in if they have any symptom on day seven.

“It’s still creeping up about us in a lot of places. It’s something I’m quite anxious about. The domino effect of this COVID.

Johnson is fully aware of the need to bring fresh legs into his squad with plenty of his players lacking fitness.

“There’s no doubt we’re not going to have time.

We won’t have our back four in place, as I see it, probably until, best case the week before the season, worst case three weeks into the season.

“We’re going to have to put a plasters over certain positions as it looks at the moment.”

Sunderland are back in pre-season action later this afternoon when they make the visit to League Two side Harrogate Town.