AJI ALESE is set to miss the start of Sunderland’s season after suffering an injury recurrence in the second leg of May’s ill-fated play-off semi-final with Luton Town.

Ross Stewart and Corry Evans have already been ruled out of the Black Cats’ season-opener against Ipswich Town at the start of next month as they continue to recuperate from the long-term injury issues that ruled them out of the bulk of the second half of last term.

And Tony Mowbray has now conceded that Alese is also unlikely to be available for the game against Ipswich, with Dennis Cirkin and new signing Jenson Seelt also ongoing injury doubts as pre-season continues.

Alese suffered a thigh injury in March’s heavy home defeat to Stoke City, and was sidelined for more than two months as he battled his way back to fitness.

He was always regarded as touch and go for the play-off semi-final, but while he was forced to sit out the first leg at the Stadium of Light, he was pressed back into action as a substitute at Kenilworth Road as Sunderland tried to withstand the aerial bombardment that ultimately resulted in Luton making it to Wembley.

He managed to make it through to the final whistle, but suffered further damage to his thigh that necessitated surgery earlier this summer. As a result, he will not be available for the start of the new campaign.

“Aji is quite a way away,” admitted Mowbray. “He won’t be coming to the US (for a pre-season tour) with us. That’s a frustration because we obviously gambled a bit on that last game of last season against Luton and tried to get him up to speed to give us a bit of physicality in the team.

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“It was a team that, on paper, was outmuscled by a much more physical team, so we tried to get him in, but he damaged (his thigh) and suffered a bit of a recurrence really, which was not good for anybody. So Aji’s going to be a miss, and obviously, Corry and Ross are nos (for the first game).”

Mowbray has also revealed that new signing, Seelt, is nursing an ankle injury issue in the wake of his arrival from PSV Eindhoven.


The Dutch centre-half joined Sunderland in a permanent transfer last month, having spent last season playing for Jong PSV in the Dutch second tier, but is currently out of action and is not expected to feature in any of the club’s early pre-season games.

“Seelt isn’t training yet,” said Mowbray, in an interview with Sunderland’s official media channels. “He’s got an injury to his ankle so he’s not out on the grass.

“He should be about ready for the start of the season, but won’t have done much in pre-season games. Let’s wait and see.”

Similarly, Cirkin, who was not available for either of the play-off semi-finals, faces a battle to regain fitness ahead of the start of the new campaign.

“Dennis, I don’t think is too far away,” said Mowbray. “Dennis will be touch and go towards the season I think. We’ll work with what we’ve got, and hopefully there’ll be another couple coming in.”

Sunderland’s players returned for the start of pre-season training at the start of last week, with Mowbray having been delighted with the way in which the first week of preparations has gone.

“We’re a week in and it’s been good,” said the Black Cats boss. “Initially, they’re running really. They were doing testing on the first day to see how they all came back, and with modern-day footballers, they all come back pretty fit to be honest.

“The staff will say what a good bunch we’ve got – nobody’s moaning or whinging. They’re just getting on and doing the work, and concentrating on the football. It’s felt like a good vibe. A lot of them are of a similar age, so they get on well with each other. The banter’s been good. I’ve only got positives to say from the first week.”