Alex Neil is ‘very, very hopeful’ that playmaker Alex Pritchard will be available to rejoin Sunderland’s play-off campaign next weekend – but admits the Black Cats cannot afford to risk rushing him back and losing him for the remainder of the season. Pritchard was missing once again as Sunderland fought out a goalless draw at play-off rivals Plymouth Argyle yesterday, meaning the midfielder has now sat out the last three games due to a calf problem he picked up in the home win against Gillingham at the beginning of April.
Neil had hoped that Pritchard would be in contention for the Easter games but ultimately he was not fit to return either for the home win against Shrewsbury or the trip to Plymouth. But Neil hopes the 28-year-old will be ready when Sunderland face Cambridge United at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, which would give the Black Cats a huge boost as they look to secure a play-off spot.
“Alex wasn’t quite right for this one – if he was, I would have had him down here, even on the bench,” said Neil, following the game at Plymouth. “We didn’t have enough days to go through the process to have him back.
“What we couldn’t do is risk him. What we couldn’t afford to do is put him on for 20 minutes and then for him to break back down and be missing for next week. We are at a stage now where if you are out for any period of time, you miss the remaining games.
“But I’m very. very, hopeful that he will get a good week – or certainly three days – under his belt, and then let’s see how he goes for next weekend.”
Pritchard has been a key player for Sunderland this season, scoring four league goals and contributing seven assists – along with Dan Neil, the joint highest number of any Black Cats player.