Gustavo Poyet will hold off making any decisions over Connor Wickham’s immediate future until he has a better idea of his striking options for the rest of the season.
The 20-year-old centre-forward was recalled from a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday just before the transfer window closed last month.
With no shortage of Championship suitors, it had been assumed the decision was taken to allow Wickham to move clubs.
Yet, despite having been an unused substitute in Sunderland’s two games since, the England under-21 striker remains at the Stadium of Light.
With Football League clubs able to make “emergency” loan signings outside of the transfer window, Wickham could still end the season elsewhere, but Poyet will wait to judge Steven Fletcher’s fitness and Ignacio Scocco’s form before releasing him.
Fletcher has been struggling with an Achilles injury and may even have to go under the knife to rectify a problem his coach was hoping would have eased by now.
Poyet admitted: “It’s affecting him more than I thought. I’m a bit worried about it.
“We’re analysing it with the medical staff but we’re going to have to make a decision on it (surgery) one way or the other.”
Sunderland’s ongoing involvement in the cup competitions means there is less scope for Fletcher to rest the problem.
Jozy Altidore has been the Black Cats’ first-choice centre-forward in recent weeks and produced one of his best performances for the club in last week’s 3-0 win at Newcastle United.
However, like Fletcher, he is desperately short of goals this season. Fletcher has three league goals, Altidore one, so competition is needed.
With Scocco added to the squad in the last week of January, Sunderland have another option were they to be without the Scot.
However, Scocco has not played since the Brazilian season finished in mid-November and was an unused substitute against Newcastle.
As a fellow South American Poyet appreciates the Argentinian may need time to adapt to English football.
Scocco’s best position is generally regarded as being slightly deeper and he can also play wide, though previous club Internacional largely utilised him as a No.9.
Poyet has also admitted he was very close to using Fabio Borini as an out-and-out centre-forward.
The Italian, on a season-long loan from Liverpool, has been used as a wide player at Sunderland but prefers to play down the middle.
Poyet added: “Connor has got plenty of admirers, you can’t imagine how many.
“Yet he wasn’t going anywhere on loan before the transfer deadline.
“He’s part of the squad and he’s done very well at Sheffield. That’s why he has so many options. At the same time, he’s our player.
“He’s been on the bench for the last two games and he would have come on against Stoke if Phil Bardsley hadn’t got injured, which changed my plans. The decision at the moment is he is our player and we need him here.”
Wickham scored eight times in 11 appearances during his second loan spell at Wednesday and is well thought of in the Championship.
Wickham’s £8.1m transfer fee when he joined from Ipswich Town in 2011 makes him the Black Cats’ most expensive teenager, but next season is the last of his contract and Sunderland risk losing him for a vastly-reduced tribunal-set fee if they cannot find a buyer for him then.