SUNDERLAND will check on the fitness of Phil Bardsley and Titus Bramble today, hoping that both will be available for the New Year’s Day visit of league leaders Manchester City.
Both players were substituted because of knocks in yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Everton at the Stadium of Light and played no part in the second half.
But while manager Martin O’Neill was quick to acknowledge that Bramble and Bardsley are key members of his defence, who he would like back as soon as possible, he wants to avoid taking any risks which could see them sidelined longer.
“I honestly don’t know how either of them stand at the moment in terms of when they might play,” he said last night.
“Everyone is in on Tuesday and we’ll look at them then and assess the situation, but it’s tricky.
“It’s not the old knee injury with Titus.
“He has an Achilles problem, and that’s something we have to watch.
“It’s similar with Phil – he had a tightness in his thigh and coming off at half-time rather than trying to play through it might have helped. But with those sort of injuries you have to be very careful because they’re niggling ones that hang around and if you’re not careful you can be out for a while.”
The injuries – Bramble in the 20th minute, Bardsley at half-time – forced reshuffles which O’Neill was relieved to see his side handle.
“Titus going off so early caused us problems, but Jack Colback came in and did well and actually got us a goal,” mused the manager.
“With Phil Bardsley going off, we had to put Craig Gardner in at right-back – it’s a position he’s played before but he’ll be the first to tell you it’s not his strongest position. So it wasn’t ideal, but we coped well enough.”
Sunderland took a point, which at least saw some progress made.
And O’Neill tried to look at the bigger picture – the fact that despite referee Howard Webb costing his side victory with a wrong penalty award, Sunderland have still doing well since the arrival of their new manager.
“I think I’d have taken seven points from 12 in my first four games in charge,” he said. “Especially when you consider the two difficult away games in London.
“But maybe, under the circumstances, you start to get a bit greedy and ask for a few more points that are not there. We didn’t get beaten against Everton – so that’s something.
“The players are very disappointed after the game – but maybe I should see that as encouraging, too.
“What happened with the penalty was disappointing, but we have to look to the positives and move on.”
With defensive injuries potentially a concern, O’Neill may look to bolster his back four in the January transfer window, with Hamburg’s Marcell Jansen rumoured to be in the Irishman’s sights.
The 6ft 3in 26-year-old can play at left-back or on the left of midfield.