Desperate times approaching as the Sunderland centre-back crisis looms on horizon

Lamine Kone (right) keeps tabs on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Picture by FRANK REID
Lamine Kone (right) keeps tabs on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Picture by FRANK REID
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This Sunday sees the fifth anniversary of one of Sunderland’s more memorable victories over Manchester City.

The game in question, on New Year’s Day 2012, finished one-nil thanks to Ji Dong-Won. If his injury time winner was late, then it was even more offside. I don’t recall caring.

Less well remembered from that afternoon were the substitutions. Ji himself was a sub for Nicklas Bendtner.

When City brought on Sergio Agüero at half-time, an audible collective groan went round the Stadium of Light, such is the imposing talent of the man.

Earlier in the game an injury had led to Sunderland’s introduction of Matthew Kilgallon, upon which the crowd made precisely the same noise.

Groaning over, discussions commenced among people professing not to have known that Kilgallon was still at the club.

He had arrived from Sheffield United two years earlier. He made just six starts, but was then loaned out to the likes of Doncaster and Middlesbrough having not been given a squad number in 2010-11.

Wes Brown, Michael Turner and Titus Bramble were injured. Anton Ferdinand had been sold. Even Nyron Nosworthy and George McCartney were out on loan. This left John O’Shea and Kilgallon as the only two available centre-backs.

In fairness to Kilgallon, he held his own against Agüero, Džeko and Silva, and in several games afterwards. Sunderland were glad to still have him (although why it took another 18 months for him to leave is another story).

This tale is relevant today because soon David Moyes will probably be deprived of Lamine Koné for a month as he flies to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations. Didier Ndong will also be joining him at the tournament.

Options at centre-back would therefore be the perennial O’Shea along with Jason Denayer, who has never played in that position in the Premier League; and crowd favourite Jack Rodwell.

Beyond that: nothing. Not even a Kilgallon. Even the three remaining options are contingent upon injury and suspension.

Constricted though the squad is, it is at centre-back where it is most worryingly thin. But what to do?

This isn’t a propitious time to give debuts to youngsters. Therefore with little or no money, David Moyes must find someone who would be happy as fourth or fifth choice, but not be another complete plum duff like Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Matthew Kilgallon can’t currently get off the bench at Bradford, so ...

Well maybe not. That said, I can’t see an obvious way out of this; other than good fortune with injuries and bans.

So the Echo is having a competition. Send us your suggestions for averting a centre-back crisis. Write your answer on a postcard then come to our office and wedge it down the back of the back of the leaky cistern.

The winner gets a game.