Steven Fletcher has not been ruled out of next month’s League Cup final despite Gustavo Poyet’s recent hints the Sunderland striker could need Achilles surgery.
Poyet has been monitoring the Scotland international closely since it became clear his muscle problem was showing no signs of improvement.
While surgery is one of the options considered, it now looks as though that could be avoided.
The 26-year-old has not started since the January 22 League Cup semi-final second leg at Manchester United, or scored in 2014.
With new striker Ignacio Scocco not yet up to speed, Poyet is still holding out the hope Fletcher will be available to him at Wembley on March 2.
“He’s getting better,” Sunderland’s coach said of the striker’s condition. “I’m looking forward to seeing him. He will start moving outside next week.
“He has a little chance against Arsenal (on February 22), a bigger chance for the final.”
Scocco was signed on loan from Internacional to provide the goals Fletcher and fellow centre-forward Jozy Altidore have been unable to this season.
Fletcher has three Premier League goals this season, the American one.
However, the postponement of Wednesday’s Premier League game at Manchester City means Argentinian Scocco is yet to play for Sunderland, something which will almost certainly be put right on Saturday, when Southampton are visitors in the FA Cup.
Having not played competitive football since the end of the Brazilian season in November, it is hard to see Scocco being sufficiently matchfit to start against Manchester City at Wembley.
That, though, is just one of a series of important games the Black Cats are faced with between now and the end of the season.
After the euphoria of beating Stoke City to leave the relegation zone for the first time since August, then days later winning 3-0 at Newcastle United, the events of the last week have seen Sunderland back in the bottom three - albeit now with a game in hand.
Their next two Premier League games are due to be at Arsenal and Liverpool, although the latter game will be rearranged should either team reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Poyet added: “I want Fletcher back as soon as possible not only because we need him but because of the games we have got to play before the final as well.
“I don’t want him to just go into the last days (of rehab) just to be in the final.
“People who have had Achilles tendon injuries have told me they’re quite tricky.
“When you think you’re right and it’s okay, it comes back, so we will manage it properly.”
Fletcher had a terrible time with injury in 2013.
Late in Martin O’Neill’s time as manager he picked up an ankle injury which cut his season short, and delayed his first appearance of 2013-14.
When he did return, he dislocated his shoulder in Paolo Di Canio’s final match in charge.