ROSS STEWART is back in full training with Sunderland, but Tony Mowbray is tempted to give the striker an extra week of recovery time rather than pitch him straight back into the side for Saturday’s return to Championship action against Millwall.

Stewart has been sidelined since suffering a thigh injury during the warm-up ahead of September’s Tees-Wear derby defeat at Middlesbrough, and while he travelled to Dubai with the rest of Sunderland’s first-team squad for last month’s warm-weather training camp, he was not involved in the friendly with Saudi side Al-Shabab.

He has stepped up his training programme this week, but with a nine-day gap between the Millwall game and Sunderland’s next fixture against West Brom, his manager is tempted to err on the side of caution this weekend.

“We mixed it up with Ross over there (in Dubai),” said Mowbray. “He did a bit on his own and a bit with the team. He did all the warm-ups and passing drills, and a bit of possession, but didn’t really get involved in the high-intensity stuff.

“Today was the first day he’s joined in for the whole session, with the whole team. He came through it laughing and smiling, and I had to take him off the shooting at the end because he was wanting to do a little bit extra.

“That suggests he’s chomping at the bit and ready to go. We’ll have a chat after training tomorrow, but in his mind, he thinks he’s ready. In my mind, he’s been out for a long time and whether we need to risk him off the back of a win where both strikers scored, we’ll see.

“After this game on Saturday, we’ve got nine whole days before the next game, so maybe it makes more sense to let him have a full week or more of training every day to get clear in his mind that he’s ready and there’s nothing wrong with him.

“It feels to me a little but like we might be gambling putting him on the bench (against Millwall), and yet if he’s adamant that he’s going on the bench and wants to come off if we need a goal, then we might do that. We’ll talk about it.”

While Stewart is on the cusp of full fitness, Lynden Gooch and Aji Alese have been in full flow for a number of weeks now and featured prominently in the friendly with Al-Shabab.

Ellis Simms is also fully fit, having scored in the win over Birmingham that preceded the start of the World Cup break, and while Dan Ballard remains unavailable as he continues to recover from a foot injury, the centre-half is not far away from a first-team return.

“Gooch was back in training for the whole of the trip, from day one,” said Mowbray. “Ellis has obviously been playing some footy and scored against Birmingham, so he’s back training and fully available for every session.

“Aji’s fit now, but Dan didn’t train with us (in Dubai). He was over there, doing his individual stuff, and he looks hugely impressive when he’s doing box-to-box stride-outs. He’s a real powerhouse, but he’s just not ready yet.

“We inquire on a daily basis about where they are, and he’s getting closer. Hopefully, next week, he’ll be back in training. He’ll then have to wait and assess, and we’ll see how the team’s doing. Are we keeping clean sheets?

“We’ll see how strong we are, but he will obviously bring big competition to the defensive side of our team. Hopefully, it’s not too long before he’s knocking on the door telling me he’s ready and he feels he can help.”

Mowbray has spent the last two or three months muddling through without a recognised centre-forward, and while he was delighted with the way in which his players responded in the absence of both Stewart and Simms, he is looking forward to being able to pair two of the Championship’s most highly-rated attackers in the same team.

“It’s good,” he said. “We’ve sat here and talked a long time about playing with no strikers, and now we’re just about on the verge of having both of our main centre-forwards available.

“(Amad) Diallo has undoubtedly come to the party over the last month or so with his amazing performance levels and great goals, so the options at the top end of the pitch, when you throw (Jack) Clarke, (Alex) Pritchard, (Patrick) Roberts and (Elliot) Embleton into that, then all of a sudden, you’ve got some decisions to make.”