Steve Bruce has insisted that John O'Shea is still on track to face Liverpool on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season.
The versatile Irishman joined Sunderland from Manchester United earlier in the summer but has barely featured for the Black Cats in pre-season after picking up a hamstring problem.
Bruce will not gamble on O'Shea's fitness in the upcoming friendlies against Burnley and Hartlepool but is confident he will be at his disposal when the real business starts on 13th August at Anfield.
"I've got no worries about John," Bruce told the Shields Gazette.
"He wasn't involved against Kilmarnock, and I'm not looking at risking him in our next two friendlies - it's a case of erring on the right side caution.
"But he should be able to play in our last pre-season game, against Hibs a week on Saturday, and if he comes through that, he'll come into contention for the Liverpool game.
"Every player is different, but the knock he's got is not a serious one.
"And he's one of those players who can come into training and pick things up very quickly.
"As things stand, I'm sure he'll be all right for the Liverpool game."
While fellow defenders Michael Turner, Titus Bramble and Phil Bardsley could also sit out the Burnley match to recover from knocks, Bruce still wants to send out a strong side.
Asamoah Gyan and Stephane Sessegnon are likely to start together up front and the Sunderland manager has challenged his strikers to show a greater cutting edge this term.
"It's a pairing that we're very excited about," said Bruce.
"I think playing behind the main striker is Stephane's strongest position, and we saw signs at Kilmarnock how effectively they might work together.
"We needed to get more goals into our squad for next season.
"And in the recruitment of players like Connor Whickham, Ji Dong-Won and Craig Gardner we've done that.
"But it could be that our biggest goal-getters are players that were already at the club.
"This will be Asamoah's second season in the Premier League, and I expect him to be better for the experience he's had over the last 12 months of English football.
"In Stephane, we saw towards the end of last season how good he can be in front of goal, and he's carried that on in pre-season.
"We think he's capable of getting 12 to 15 goals next season."