(Reuters) - Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo said on Friday he was confident Raul Jimenez would play again this season as the striker steps up his recovery from surgery on a fractured skull.
Jimenez was taken to hospital after a clash of heads with Arsenal defender David Luiz during a match in November and has largely been working individually, although the Mexican has joined in some parts of group sessions recently.
The 29-year-old international was a key player for Wolves last season with 27 goals and 10 assists in all competitions as they finished seventh in the league and reached the Europa League quarter-finals.
Asked by reporters before Saturday's Premier League trip to Newcastle United if he believes Jimenez can return before the season ends, Nuno said: "Totally confident, for sure.
"We have to be very aware of the circumstances and avoid any kind of contact. He has been able to participate in the initial part of training sessions. Just being with his team mates is a big help for him and us.
"We are following the protocols. There's no rush but we are delighted that Raul is getting better and better day-by-day, so it is fantastic for us."
Wolves' league form dipped following the injury to Jimenez but three victories in their last four games have left them 12th in the league with 33 points from 25 games.
Their 17th-placed opponents Newcastle, who are three points above the drop zone, are looking to avoid a third straight defeat and manager Steve Bruce said his team were locked in a relegation battle involving at least six sides.
"If you're at the bottom end, which we are, unfortunately... Can we finish above the six or seven? That's the aim... I'm quietly confident we can do that," said Bruce, whose team finished 13th last season.
"Everybody says it is just Newcastle and (third-bottom) Fulham but there are others."
Newcastle have 25 points above Fulham on 22, with Brighton & Hove Albion on 26 and Burnley with 28. Bottom side Sheffield United have 11 and second-bottom West Bromwich Albion 14.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)