SUNDERLAND’S full-back shortage is causing Gus Poyet his biggest selection headache for tomorrow’s FA Cup third round clash at home to Leeds United (1pm kick-off).
The Black Cats’ squad will be boosted by the return from injury of Anthony Reveillere and Patrick van Aanholt on Monday, with both full-backs likely to be in contention for next Saturday’s visit of Liverpool.
Without that pair, Billy Jones and Santiago Vergini have operated on either side of the defence for the last three games, yet both are worrying head coach Poyet.
Jones needs a breather after being thrown straight into the deep end following two months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, while Vergini has barely trained over the last fortnight due to a tight hamstring and has been substituted in each of Sunderland’s last three games.
But with no other natural full-backs at Poyet’s disposal until the return of Reveillere and van Aanholt, the ex-Leeds assistant manager may have little choice than to include at least one of the pair for tomorrow’s Stadium of Light clash.
Poyet told the Echo: “The effort Santi has been making has been incredible. He’s been one of the players who has hardly trained, but managed to continue playing somehow.
“It’s tough on Billy too.
“You would think, after all that time out, he would play a game, then maybe another game and then rest him.
“Rest him? I’ve got no chance.
“It’s not ideal. Maybe if it was Tuesday or Wednesday, we’d have an extra player.
“But we need to respect the cup.
“It would be too easy for me to go ‘rest, rest, rest’ and get a load of players from the Under-21s and say ‘all the best’.”
Groin injury victim Lee Cattermole, along with veteran defender Wes Brown, will not be involved tomorrow, yet there are natural replacements available in fit-again Liam Bridcutt and Sebastian Coates.
Poyet faces one of two options at full-back, with Vergini the likeliest to miss out.
The Uruguayan can either hand a debut to academy product Tom Robson – an unused sub on three occasions this season – or use one of wing duo Will Buckley and Charis Mavrias as a makeshift right-back.
“They’ve done it, but that’s a risk,” said Poyet on Buckley and Mavrias. “But if you don’t have players, someone needs to play.”
He added on Robson: “My aim, I think I have said this many times, is that whenever we can achieve it – two years, three years – is to go down to the 21s and get a player who can go into the first-team.
“That’s not the case (at the moment).
“Robbo has been with us for a while and we put so much in his head that we confused him a little bit.
“Now he’s getting back on his feet.
“Is this the right game to play him from the beginning? I’m not sure because we need to be careful.
“Now if we need him, then he’ll have to jump in.
“But at the moment, I’d prefer to wait a bit longer. It’s different for an offensive player, if you score or run about it’s fine.
“But when it’s in defence, we need to make sure they really know the position and what they need to do.
“Maybe no-one recovers though and he needs to go in.”