VICTORY at Crystal Palace came at a cost for Sunderland. A big cost.
If supporters had to nominate the pick of Sunderland’s players at the start of this season, then Lee Cattermole and Patrick van Aanholt would surely finish as the top two in the poll.
Cattermole was superb over the opening month of the campaign and his importance to the side was highlighted by his glaring absence in both Capital One Cup ties.
Van Aanholt, meanwhile, has been the most consistent of the summer signings - improving by the week defensively and adding a much-needed element of raw pace going forwards.
Losing both for Sunday’s visit of Everton is a blow that cannot be glossed over. Coupled with an already heavily-populated treatment table, Gus Poyet faces a daunting task to oversee back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Yes, there was an air of inevitability around Cattermole earning a fifth yellow card of the season and a subsequent one-match ban.
But the timing isn’t great, for either Sunderland or Cattermole himself.
The midfielder recognises that his best performances invariably emerge when he has a run of playing each and every Saturday.
When that rhythm is disrupted - and it will be now for the next three weeks - he loses those crucial few per cent of sharpness.
Liam Bridcutt will almost certainly take Cattermole’s place against the Toffees. Jack Rodwell may have shaken off the calf injury which ruled him out against Palace, but he is earmarked for a role further up the pitch under Poyet.
This is a chance for Bridcutt to make a point.
The former Brighton man, whose confidence will have been boosted by his contribution to Steven Fletcher’s second at Palace, hasn’t exactly set the world alight since his January arrival and suffered an unpleasant mauling when thrown on in the unfamiliar surroundings of right-back at Southampton.
But with Cattermole one of the first names on the team-sheet, Bridcutt must seize these rare openings and demonstrate that he can indeed bridge the gulf with the Premier League.
At least in Bridcutt, Poyet can call upon a natural replacement for Cattermole though.
The only specialist available to cover for van Aanholt is teenager Tom Robson - a genuinely bright prospect, yet one who hasn’t even enjoyed the eye-opening experience of making his professional debut out on loan.
Robson could well get a place on the bench, but the back four picks itself on Sunday; the defensive unit which finished the game at Palace.
Anthony Reveillere was excellent on his debut - particularly considering the length of his absence from competitive football - while John O’Shea held the back-line together after the reshuffle forced by van Aanholt’s removal.
But as the loss of Billy Jones has proved, the attacking attributes of full-backs can be crucial. Without van Aanholt, there is a big onus on the rest to provide sufficient service to the in-form Steven Fletcher.
Rodwell and Adam Johnson are the only real options to tweak the remainder of the side, but if Sunderland can give a rejuvenated Fletcher chances, then there is clearly a window of opportunity against an Everton side, who faced the demands of the Europa League last night.
While Roberto Martinez can boast an array of attacking riches, the Toffees have been vulnerable defensively this season, with 17 goals conceded in 10 games.
They are no longer the tight, mean, difficult-to-beat side overseen by David Moyes.
If Sunderland can be sufficiently solid to keep Romelu Lukaku, Samuel Eto’o, Ross Barkley and Steven Naismith under wraps, they will have a sniff of success.
With so many key players watching from the stands, that’s a big ask though.
Any addition to the points tally this weekend will a welcome follow-up to that pivotal outcome at Selhurst.