Tony Hibbert is close to putting his injury problems behind him - but Everton manager David Moyes insists he will not rush the defender back.
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Hibbert, 32, has been recovering from calf surgery, and has not played for the first team since December 1. He has been building up his fitness by appearing as one of three permitted overage outfield players in the club's Under-21 side in recent weeks.
And Moyes has indicated that he is close to being available for selection again, but may have to wait for his chance. Seamus Coleman has established himself as the regular right-back in Hibbert's absence, and will keep that role for Saturday's Premier League trip to Sunderland.
Moyes has also hinted that England Under-19 defender John Stones, signed from Championship side Barnsley in January, could be given a chance too.
Asked about Hibbert, Moyes said: "He's doing OK. We're not in a great need to rush Tony Hibbert because we've got Seamus Coleman, and I've even got John Stones as well. So I'm not in a desperate rush to get Tony Hibbert back playing.
"But he'll probably get another run out in the reserves this week and, if that goes well, that will be near enough him back to the level of getting involved in the first team, we hope."
Everton's Under-21 side have two home games over the next week, against Sunderland on Monday and Chelsea on Thursday.
While Hibbert is approaching full fitness, midfielder Leon Osman remains a doubt, having missed Tuesday's 0-0 draw at Arsenal with a groin problem.
Moyes said: "Leon's getting better. I don't know if it will come too quickly for him, but he's getting better, and we'll see how he is."