Sunderland boss Steve Bruce may not risk midfielder Lee Cattermole again this season as he attempts to avoid him going into the summer break injured.
The 22-year-old is likely to miss Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with Burnley as he battles to shake off a calf problem, the latest in a series of fitness concerns which have blighted his first season on Wearside.
Bruce said: "He is desperate to play, but I am not going to risk him with what's gone on, especially over the last few weeks."
Cattermole has been hit by niggling injuries since fighting his way back from medial ligament damage, and he has been disappointing as a result after making an impressive start to his career at the Stadium of Light.
But with his £6million summer signing from Wigan champing at the bit to return, Bruce will keep a tight rein on a man he wants to be ready, willing and able for the start of the new campaign.
Bruce added: "The last thing I want to do is injure him and he goes into the rest period being injured.
"He's 22, he will be okay, he will be fine. He will learn from it. It's the first serious injury he has had in his career and he will be okay, he will come through it."
The timing of Cattermole's latest problem is all the more disappointing because Bruce had seen signs of him returning to his best form in recent weeks.
The manager said: "He has searched for form a little bit. I have said often in my career that you see a player who if they are out for three months, it takes them three months.
"I had just detected signs, last week and the week before, that Lee was getting back to being where he was. He has been searching for that form, and it's unfortunate."
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