SUNDERLAND captain Corry Evans is hoping to make a first team return before the season is out - and has stressed the importance of the Black Cats finishing the campaign on a high and taking momentum into a crucial summer.

Evans marked his return from long-term injury with a brilliant goal against Newcastle United U21s last week, playing 45 minutes before a planned change at the break. Evans then backed that up with another 45 minutes against Leicester City on Friday night, once again coming through the game unscathed.

He admits it's been a testing 14 months on the sidelines but is delighted to be back and eyeing a return to the first team in the coming weeks.

"I'm very well," Evans said when asked about his injury. "I played my first minutes the other day for the reserves [Under 21s] against Newcastle. It's nice to be back on the pitch and kicking the ball about again.

"It's been really difficult, more mentally than anything. Being away from football for that long a time, you're just concentrating on getting fit and back to a level that you can.

"It's a lot of long hours in the gym. In throughout the summer when all the lads are off. Personally, it's been tough but at the same time it's been good. To work on other things, in the gym, working on strength.

"The challenge of trying to build your knee and your leg back up to the level required, it's been a good challenge as well."

Evans' strike against the Magpies was a timely reminder of his quality as Sunderland prepare for the final eight games of the season. His experience has been a big miss in the heart of midfield.

"I really enjoyed it," the Black Cats captain said looking back on that game against Newcastle. 

"As I said, it's nice to get back amongst it and playing football in a competitive way. I've been training now for the best part of two or three weeks now maybe, but it's nice to finally get a game and they're obviously a lot different to training.

"The intensity and challenges and so on. It was nice to get that little experience and hopefully it can carry on the progression of my return to playing in the first team now in a couple of games with the reserves."

It remains to be seen whether Evans will feature for Sunderland at Cardiff City on Good Friday, with caution the message coming out of the club after such a long-term injury.

"I think it's just to get back to a level in terms of fitness where I feel good with my knee," Evans said when asked his short-term aims. "It feels good now and hopefully I can maintain that for the end of the season, match fitness and trying to come back and get some minutes in the first team if I can.

"Obviously there's not that many games left, but anything I can play now between the end of the season is a bonus for myself.

"I think it's important. We've not been on the best of runs lately but it'll be nice to come back and try and help the lads finish the season on a high going into next season.

"It's important we go off in the summer on a positive note looking ahead to next season."

Evans has also revealed he spent last summer starting his coaching badges as he looks to the next chapter of his career. The 33-year-old's deal will expire at the Stadium of Light this summer and it remains to be seen whether he'll extend his stay.


"I've managed to start my coaching badges last summer and I'll be doing the next part of that this summer," he added. "It's been a good way for me to concentrate on that side of the game, something to do after I retire and set myself up that way.

"It's been great to have a bit more time with my family as well. I've got a young family with three kids and with football, you're always travelling and you're in most of the week and away on internationals.

"It was nice to get time with them and I think they've enjoyed it as well having me about."