Sir Alex Ferguson should have Phil Jones available for selection as Manchester United prepare to play two games in three days over the weekend. Ferguson's team are at Sunderland on Saturday when they hope to maintain their 15-point lead in the Premier League, then in west London for Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay against Chelsea. The Scot will also be able to call on Paul Scholes, who has now recovered from a knee injury.
Jones has been out since damaging ankle ligaments in the 2-1 FA Cup win over Reading on 18 February, meaning the 21-year-old has not played for more than five weeks. Before the international break and United's last match, a 1-0 league victory also over Reading, Ferguson said of him: "Phil Jones should start training next week. He is coming on."
Unless he has suffered a relapse Jones will have had nearly two weeks to regain match fitness, and Ferguson may decide the trip to Stamford Bridge is the better option for him.
Scholes has not played for over two months since he injured a knee playing against Fulham in the 4-1 FA Cup win in late January. Regarding the 38-year-old, Ferguson wrote in the programme ahead of the Reading game: "I am also delighted to say that Paul Scholes is back in training, and he will play a part in keeping us fresh."
The Scot also added that as United target a league and FA Cup double those of his squad who were not on international duty may prove vital. "The players who will miss the international trips like [Ryan] Giggs, Anderson, [Nemanja] Vidic, [Alexander] Buttner and Rafa [Da Silva] will be key players on the run-in."
Martin O'Neill's Sunderland have not registered a win in seven games and with Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole ruled out for the rest of the season, the task to garner enough points to avoid relegation has been made tougher.
"The old cliche about people stepping up to the plate has never been more relevant," said O'Neill, whose team are four points above third-bottom Wigan.
The Northern Irishman dismissed claims that he has become uncharacteristically worn down by a season of setbacks, including the knee operation that Cattermole, his captain and key midfielder, underwent on Wednesday.
"Remaining upbeat is actually in my nature," said O'Neill, whose side face Chelsea, Newcastle, Everton and Aston Villa after their meeting with United. "I can be down when we've lost matches but fighting back is part of me. Being down is not in my nature. Setbacks are part of the game. You have to expect these things. We have a battle on but we have some great games ahead that we can look forward to rather than shy away from. They are tough but exciting to be involved in. If you are telling me that I am downbeat, I don't see it. I genuinely don't see it. I am still enthused about the game."
O'Neill understands why some Sunderland supporters are losing faith. "The fans have come in big numbers to support us," he said. "We have not given them a great deal to support all season. They are entitled to be frustrated. Personally speaking, I believe this is years of pent-up frustration that Sunderland have not won a trophy for 40 years.
"That could be a north east pent-up feeling. If that comes out in explosions of pent-up frustration then I understand it. We have to do better."