CARLISLE United captain Paul Thirlwell looks set to be denied an emotional playing return to Sunderland this weekend.
The 34-year-old would love to involved in Sunday’s FA Cup third round tie against the club he started his career with and supported as a boy.
But a calf injury picked up in Carlisle’s 2-1 defeat to Crewe on New Year’s Day is set to end his hopes of a swansong appearance at the Stadium of Light
Washington-born Thirlwell limped off in the first half and it is unlikely the injury will heal in time for Sunday’s 2pm kick-off.
Carlisle manager Graham Kavanagh, himself a former Black Cat of course, said: “We’re not sure what the outcome is, but he looks very much doubtful for the weekend.”
Thirlwell was at Sunderland from 1997-2004, most memorably playing in the famous 4-1 rout of Chelsea in December 1999, and also had spells at Swindon, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County before joining Carlisle in 2006, where he established himself as an influential player.
He has played more than 200 times for the Cumbrians and would loved to have given a good account of himself in this weekend’s cup tie.
But he is not Carlisle’s only injury concern – ex-Hibs and MK Dons centre-half Sean O’Hanlon is also doubtful after missing the Crewe game with knee trouble.
“Sean had a tight glute and then he came up with some swelling on his knee and was struggling to push off from it,” Kavanagh said.
“That’s a worry if it is a knee problem. I don’t know if he will be fit for the weekend and he is a massive loss.
“We are looking closer to being down to the bare bones – it can happen very quickly.”
The Cumbrians will look to the cup game against Sunderland to give them a lift after 2014 started with a defeat.
The defeat to Crewe leaves them in 15th in the League One table, only three points above the drop zone.
They last won away from Brunton Park in October, when they beat MK Dons, so the cup tie against Sunderland represents a massive challenge but also a glamour game and an enjoyable day out for Carlisle’s 5,500-strong travelling support.