JORDAN Henderson and Lee Cattermole are locked in a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s trip to Bolton Wanderers.
But Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is already making preparations for both of his young midfielders being ruled out of the Reebok Stadium clash.
He told the Echo: “They’re going to be 50/50 for the game, no more than that, so we’ll just have to wait and see how the next few days pan out for them.
“They’re probably quite hopeful that they’ll play because both of them hate missing games.
“But we don’t want to aggravate what’s already a pretty desperate injury situation even further, so unless we’re confident that they should be fine, they won’t be risked.”
Henderson has a groin strain which forced him out of last weekend’s defeat to Fulham midway through the second half, while captain Cattermole has a back problem.
“It’s a different back problem to the one one which kept him out for months,” Bruce revealed. “But it is something we’re keeping an eye on – like Jordan’s situation.
“They’re both things which can subside quickly or flare up quickly and it’s going to be a case of making a judgement closer to matchday.”
Bruce can ill-afford to lose either player in Sunderland’s predicament – short of bodies and having won just one game in their last 10.
Henderson’s boundless energy is a major asset when it comes to closing down opposition, particularly away from home.
But Cattermole’s loss would arguably be even more keenly felt.
His ball-winning and tackling ability would be vital against a side which has committed more fouls than any other Premier League team this season and, in striker Kevin Davies, boast the only player in the division to have made more than 100 fouls this season.
Cattermole’s leadership skills would also be a boon on a day which is likely to test Sunderland’s injury-hit squad to the limit.
The Black Cats will be without strikers Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck for the remainder of the season and Bruce will have to decide whether or not to persevere with “little-and-littler” strike duo Stephane Sessegnon and Steed Malbranque, or ask centre-half Nedum Onuoha to add a physical presence up front.
Onuoha’s chances of leading the line will be increased if, as expected, John Mensah returns from a calf strain this weekend.
The Ghanaian is also rated 50/50 for the match, but midfielder Kieran Richardson, who could have helped Bruce’s striker dilemma, looks to have lost his fitness battle for the Bolton game already.