JULIO Arca is still hopeful of making a return to action in Saturday’s Wear-Tees derby.

The Argentine midfielder played the first 45 minutes in Tuesday night’s reserve team fixture at the Riverside as Martin Scott’s side played out a 2-2 draw with Hull City.

Arca was his usual busy, bustling presence in midfield playing his first competitive match since sustaining an ankle injury in pre-season.

And with Tuncay, Mohammed Shawky and Marvin Emnes all missing the trip to The Stadium of Light, Gareth Southgate may be tempted to include the experienced midfielder in his squad.

“My ankle feels a bit stiff but it’s getting there slowly. I could be on the bench on Saturday but it depends if the manager needs me,” said the 27-year-old, who was Gareth Southgate’s first major signing when the player swapped Wearside for the Riverside in 2006 for a £1.75m fee on a fiveyear deal.

“I don’t think I will be available to play from the beginning but if he needs me to be on the bench I think I could be. It’s a big game for me but the main thing is my ankle now.

“If in the coming days it’s not as good as I’d like it to be I’ll maybe leave that game.

“I’d love to be involved but I don’t want to risk my ankle and make it worse and maybe miss another four or five games. So perhaps it would be better to miss this one,” he said.

The former Black Cat is still held in great regard by Sunderland fans and in the 2007 Tees-Wear derby, even though he had scored against the Wearside outfit, was cheered by the visiting supporters when he left the field through injury. Arca will train today in a bid to prove his fitness but he must be rated as 50-50 to feature in the first North-East derby of the season.

Gareth Southgate may turn to his youth players to plug the gaps in his squad and 19- year-old midfielder Josh Walker performed well in the reserve game and may have earned a place.