Gustavo Poyet says there is “a big possibility” Steven Fletcher will feature in Saturday’s Premier League game at Swansea City.
With eight players on international duty since he took charge, Jack Colback says Poyet has taken a softly-softly approach in training.
However, the return of Sunderland’s one proven goalscorer would be a massive shot in the arm for the Uruguayan’s first game as coach.
Fletcher dislocated his shoulder in Paolo Di Canio’s final game.
Sunderland initially expected the Scotland international would be out for “four to six weeks” but he should be back ahead of that.
When asked if there was any chance of Fletcher returning at the weekend, the coach replied: “There is a big possibility. It has been good news this week.
“Every player is important but we know in football there are a few positions which are key – the goalkeeper, the spine of the team, and the main man up front scoring goals.
“We need people who have that ability and Fletcher is one of those players.
“We are trying to make him train as much as we can without breaking him!”
Fletcher has 30 career Premier League goals.
Only three other Sunderland players – Craig Gardner, Sebastian Larsson and Adam Johnson – are into double figures.
Colback is now on to his tenth permanent Black Cats boss (plus two caretaker spells under Kevin Ball), but says there has been no dramatic overhaul of training since Poyet took control on Monday of last week.
He said: “I have had a few changes so I’m quite used to it now.
“It is not what you hope for but these things happen in football and you have to get over it.
“Training has been similar to when Bally was in charge. He is trying to get his ideas across slowly.
“It is difficult for any manager when you come in during the season. You cannot drastically change things straight away.
“All the lads are taking it in. A lot of players are not back yet so it will be Thursday/Friday when we really get hit with the info.
“The lads who are here understand what he wants straight away. It is something we need to translate onto the pitch.
“All the (non-international) players met him on the Monday. He basically said he wants us to play.
“He has tried to introduce his own ideas and get his points across. He pulled me in and I had a really good conversation with him.
“I expect he will get around them all to find out about the players. He will want to find what he can get from each man and he will be looking forward to the challenge.
“He comes across as very intelligent. You have to be the way he wants to play his football.
“He comes across well and speaks good English. His staff are all good and confident, very positive.
“I don’t want to talk too much about what goes on in training but he’s certainly hands on.”
Poyet admits the game has come sooner than he might have liked, but he is at least confident he knows what to expect from his first opponents.
He said: “I would like a month before we play the game.
“Swansea have been playing the same kind of football for many, many years.
“They know how to do it, they like to keep the ball, they are very strong at home.
“Right now we really need to pay attention to ourselves.
“We need to start doing the right things – not conceding goals, keeping the ball better, creating chances, winning football games really.
“Normally when you are settled and the team is already playing well you only have to pay attention to how you can take advantage of any little thing.
“Right now that’s difficult even though I know Swansea quite well and have watched them a few times.”
Meanwhile, 19-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has extended his loan at Burton Albion until December 9.