JOHN O’Shea is likely to be out for several weeks with the hamstring strain picked up in the weekend’s defeat at home to Spurs.
And that will leave Sunderland seriously stretched in central defence going into the New Year.
With O’Shea’s former Manchester United team-mate Wes Brown on the long-term injured list, Sunderland are effectively down to three recognised centre-halves – Carlos Cuellar, Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon.
And that will concentrate manager Martin O’Neill’s thoughts with the January transfer window opening tomorrow.
The manager has revealed that ideally he would like to strengthen all the way through the team next month. But O’Shea’s injury leaves Sunderland looking particularly vulnerable at the back.
Phil Bardsley could be pressed into service as an emergency centre-half, but he is struggling for form after being out virtually all season with injury and on Saturday illness prevented him from making the squad to face Spurs.
O’Shea’s injury could pave the way for Bramble to re-state his first-team claims.
The big defender, now in the last year of his contract, believes he can prove himself worthy of a new deal and has spent the last couple of months hoping to play more.
But O’Neill pointed out that the 31-year-old could have no complaints about not getting into the team ahead of Cuellar and O’Shea, so far in the campaign.
“Cuellar didn’t have his finest game against Spurs, but he has put his heart and soul into things here at Sunderland and has deserved is chance while O’Shea has also shown he deserves to be in the side,” said the Sunderland manager.
“But John could be out for some time and that’s a blow. It leaves us a bit short there. It’s frustrating, but for the moment we just have to get on with things.
“Titus is a good player and I have no qualms about putting him in but he hasn’t been fit for some considerable time and when he’s come back he’s found John and Carlos in good form.
“You have to be very fit to play in this league, it’s very demanding and I think it has taken time for Titus to get back there.
“He limped off with a calf injury last Boxing Day and we didn’t see him again until the last day of last season.
“That’s a long time for us to be without a stalwart player and a long time for him to be out. So he has had those things to contend with.”
Regardless of which centre-half partners Cuellar at Anfield on Wednesday – Kilgallon or Bramble – Danny Rose can expect an immediate return to the first team for the trip to Liverpool.
O’Neill said: “It was unfortunate he couldn’t stay in the first team after being in such good form but, of course, he couldn’t play against his parent club, which ruled him out of the Spurs match.
“Hopefully, though, that little mini-rest will do him good and he can take up where he left off when he returns.”