O’Neill eyes muscle for Sunderland in January transfer window

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson

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MARTIN O’Neill admits a foray into the transfer market may be needed in January to add muscle and bite to a Sunderland side which struggle physically when Lee Cattermole is removed from the equation.

The skipper limped out of action in the 35th minute on Saturday after aggravating a long-standing knee injury, and the Black Cats undoubtedly lost a snap and urgency to their play after he departed.

O’Neill acknowledged there was some merit in the argument that Sunderland were out-muscled once Cattermole departed.

And the relative physical shortness of Sunderland’s squad – while not an insurmountable obstacle in itself – can be something of an issue.

Of Saturday’s outfield side, only Steven Fletcher and Sunderland’s two centre-halves are over six foot tall.

“We’re not really a physical team, even when Lee Cattermole is playing – compared to other teams in the league,” O’Neill conceded.

“It’s a very demanding league, a very strong one and we’re not that powerful physically in terms of height and power.

“We need a bit more strength maybe and a bit more strength in depth, too.

“That’s something we might look at it in the New Year, but it’s not something that’s top of my list right now.

“There are so many games coming up between now and the New Year that I’m just focusing on the matches rather than the transfer window.”

O’Neill might just need reinforcements regardless, though, with a demanding run of first-team games before 2013 arrives.

Cattermole’s knee injury and John O’Shea’s calf strain – which prevented him from reappearing in the second half – will rob Sunderland of two experienced leaders for tomorrow night’s game against basement side Queens Park Rangers.

“Lee’s injury is the knee,” revealed O’Neill. “The same one which kept him out of the Everton game.

“As for John O’Shea, it’s a calf problem and we could well be looking at a number of weeks.”

Cattermole’s absence in midfield can be covered by Craig Gardner, Jack Colback and David Vaughan, while Seb Larsson is equally happy there.

The Teessider’s influence, though, will be harder to replace.

O’Shea’s injury leaves Sunderland stretched at the back

Phil Bardsley moved into the centre after O’Shea went off and with Wes Brown still on the long-term injured list and Titus Bramble’s fitness up in the air, Matt Kilgallon is the only recognised centre-half to call upon.