MIKE DODDS has played down the seriousness of the ankle injury that will keep Jack Clarke out of Sunderland’s weekend home game with Swansea City.

Dodds will kick off his third spell in interim charge of the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light this afternoon, but he will do so without his side’s star player after Clarke damaged his ankle in last weekend’s defeat at Birmingham City.

There were suggestions earlier this week that Sunderland’s leading scorer had suffered a setback that would potentially keep him on the sidelines for more than a month.

That is not the case, and while Clarke will not be considered for tomorrow’s visit of Swansea, he has a decent chance of being available for the following weekend’s trip to Norwich City.

“Jack rolled his ankle against Birmingham,” said Dodds. “But he obviously played 90 minutes and was super relaxed. The plan was for him to have a couple of days off and train Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. That hasn’t happened so I think the game tomorrow is probably going to come too early for him.

“Then, we’ll assess where we are on Monday. I don’t think he will be out for a month, I think that has been a little bit more sensationalised than it is.”

Clarke’s absence tomorrow will be a major blow, with the winger having single-handedly dominated Sunderland’s attacking output for much of the campaign.

Clearly, Dodds would rather have the 23-year-old available for the first match of his latest 13-game spell in charge, but his absence creates an opportunity to be more experimental than might otherwise have been the case.

“Jack is one of the best wingers in the league,” said Dodds. “You take Jack Clarke out of any of the teams in the league, and he’s a miss. But, on the flip side, I’m also a bit excited around tweaking and changing one of two things.

“I’m excited about what things we could move around within the group. The proof will ultimately be in the pudding. I’m sure at five o’clock at Saturday, I’m going to be getting asked two very different types of questions depending on what’s happened.”

Leo Hjelde is available for tomorrow’s game despite rumours of an injury issue of his own, with Callum Styles also set to be part of the squad for the first time since his January switch from Barnsley.

Styles had to have an emergency appendix operation prior to leaving South Yorkshire, but has been back in full training for the last two weeks.

Aji Alese and Bradley Dack have done some light training in the last few days, with Corry Evans also having been able to do some work with the first-team group as he continues his recovery from a knee-ligament injury.

“Corry trained with us this morning,” said Dodds. “He’s been doing bits with the Under-21s, although when I say he trained with us, I don’t want people to get carried away with that. It was very much bit-part training, but it’s still welcome news to see someone of Corry’s calibre in the dressing room out on the training pitch.

“Aji and Dacky were out as well. They part-trained, doing a bit with the sports science department and a bit with us. There is some brighter news in terms of people returning.”

On more of a negative note, however, Dan Ballard will be absent tomorrow as he serves the first of a two-game suspension incurred when he picked up his tenth booking of the season at St Andrew’s last weekend.

Jenson Seelt is expected to replace him alongside Luke O’Nien at the heart of the back four, with Dodds stating that the Dutch youngster has more than earned an opportunity to stake his claim for an extended run in Sunderland’s starting side.

“I thought Jenson was excellent in the Leeds performance in particular,” said Dodds. “I made a call to change the way we set-up (at Bristol City), which meant Jenson came out of the team. He knows the reasons behind that and was more than comfortable with it.

“I think Jenson more than deserves the opportunity to have a few games and a little bit of a run in the team to show us where he’s at. He’s trained very well, and he knows my thoughts on him. Hopefully, in the next couple of games, he can show everyone how good he is.”