David Meyler took a huge step towards ending his injury nightmare as he appeared for Sunderland's reserves on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old midfielder played 45 minutes against Gateshead, making his first appearance in more than eight months after a second serious injury lay-off.
In January the Irishman suffered a recurrence of the knee ligament injury which had sidelined him for the first half of last season.
And although Meyler is nearing a return to full fitness, manager Steve Bruce insists he will not take any chances with a man whose Sunderland career so far has been blighted by fitness problems.
"We have got to be really careful with him," he said.
"It's the first step again to a comeback which we hope will be successful.
"But if anybody is going to get it done, then he will. He's got the mentality to see it through.
"He has got a fierce, burning determination to make sure he does everything he can. Nobody could put in more hours than he has - I don't know how many hours he has spent in that gym.
"To be fair, he and Fraizer Campbell, the pair of them have worked tirelessly and let's hope, touch wood, he gets a break and we see David Meyler in and around the first team in the next few months."
Meyler is unlikely to be considered for Monday night's trip to Norwich, which is live on Sky Sports 1.