LUKE O’NIEN is set to return to Sunderland’s squad for Saturday’s home game with Birmingham City, although Tony Mowbray admits the situation could change at any minute before kick-off.

O’Nien’s wife, Georgia, is due to give birth any day, and O’Nien was omitted from the squad for last weekend’s win at Cardiff City because Tony Mowbray did not want to ask him to travel more than six hours away from his family home.

There have been no developments on the family front this week, so the fact this weekend’s game takes place at the Stadium of Light rather than away from Wearside means O’Nien could feature against Birmingham.

Mowbray said: “As we said at the weekend, O’Nien wasn’t left out (at Cardiff) because of an injury. I don’t think he’s got any dramatic news for me, but the game’s at home so he wouldn’t be six-and-a-half hours away from where he needed to be.

“He trained today, as he’s trained for the last few days, so we’ll see how he fares and how things roll with that.

“He’ll be in the matchday squad unless matchday is the day (of the birth). We’ll do the stuff on team structure on Friday and I’ll sleep on it in terms of whether we bring Luke straight back in or not.”

None of Sunderland’s long-term absentees will be available for Saturday’s game, although Mowbray has revealed that Dan Ballard could be pressed into action in the final couple of matches of the regular season if the Black Cats are still in the play-off mix.


Ballard has been sidelined since suffering a hamstring injury while on international duty with Northern Ireland last month, and while he will not be risked if Sunderland have nothing to play for in their last couple of games, his rehabilitation could be speeded up if a play-off place is hanging in the balance in the final week of the season.

However, even if the Black Cats were to make the play-offs, there is no chance of Ross Stewart being able to feature before the start of next season.

Mowbray said: “Ballard might be ready for the second last game of the season. Maybe, if we’re pushing it. If we don’t need to, then we won’t. But there’ll be nobody else (available).”