MARTIN O’Neill admits the depth of Sunderland’s squad is being tested, with up to three players likely to miss tomorrow’s visit of Manchester City.
Defenders Phil Bardsley (thigh) and Titus Bramble (Achilles/calf) are almost certainly out of the Stadium of Light clash after being forced off in Boxing Day’s draw with Everton, while the duo are also unlikely to feature in Tuesday’s trip to struggling Wigan Athletic.
The versatile Kieran Richardson is another major doubt for tomorrow’s game after struggling with a virus all week – leaving O’Neill’s defensive options desperately thin, with Michael Turner on the sidelines for another month with a knee injury.
The likes of rookies John Egan and Louis Laing, along with in-from-the-cold Matt Kilgallon, could be pressed into action in the back four, although midfielders Jack Colback, Craig Gardner and Ahmed Elmohamady are perhaps likelier options as makeshift full-backs.
O’Neill said: “We’re stretched at this minute.
“Kieran has been ill for the last three or four days.
“At the beginning of the week, it didn’t cause me any concern because we had a few days to try to resolve it.
“But it still seems to be hovering. He was in yesterday and we want to get some training into him.
“Bardsley and Bramble will be struggling for the game and for Tuesday as well. At this minute, I don’t know if they will be longer.
“That is a major blow to us because they are obviously two players in the defence and we have not got the largest of squads to choose from. It is a concern with Michael Turner out as well.
“Matt Kilgallon and a number of players who have not played might find themselves playing in the team.
“In an ideal world, it would be great to have our best defenders available. But if it’s not the case, we will have to make do.”
Neither Fraizer Campbell or Connor Wickham will feature in the match-day squad either as both make their way back from knee injury lay-offs.
“Connor is making progress, but we just have to be a wee bit careful with him,” said O’Neill.
“Fraizer trained with us the other day and he had a wee bit of a setback when he felt the bottom of his hamstring.
“But I’m hoping that was a little bit of tightness rather than anything else.”
O’Neill added that the spate of defensive injuries may alter his thinking in the January transfer window, but reiterated his stance of playing down expectations of significant recruitment.
“This is the last opportunity that you get before the window closes up,” he said.
“I have said repeatedly here that it was not the promise of things that may or may not happen in January which saw me take the job.
“But it is a concern, with having so many injuries and recovery time for some of them being longer than you expect.”