Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross is making good progress in his recovery from back surgery and could return to the pitch in the coming weeks.
Shawcross had an operation on a back problem in the close-season and has not played for the club so far this season.
However, the former Manchester United centre-back trained with the academy on Thursday and manager Mark Hughes is optimistic he will be able to return to action soon.
“Ryan trained with the younger lads today which is another big step forward for him,” Hughes told Stoke’s official website ahead of Saturday’s Premier League clash with Aston Villa.
“He probably could have joined in with us, but with our minds focused on preparing for the game at the weekend we felt he would be best served working with the academy.
“It’s really encouraging to see him back out on the pitches again, and hopefully we can step it up even further in the next week or so.
“He obviously needs some game time so we will look to arrange a couple of friendly matches if we can, and then see how he goes from there.”
Asked if Shawcross could feature at Swansea City after the international break, Hughes added: “We will have to see.
“We certainly don’t want to rush him or put a timescale on anything but he is making real positive progress which is encouraging.”