SUNDERLAND 10 YEARS AGO: Whitehead expects a battle, Keane's injury fear

Here's what the Echo was reporting on SAFC 10 years ago.

Tuesday, 31st January 2017, 9:20 am

DEAN: WE’LL GET IT TOUGH

PROMOTION will have to be achieved the hard way for Sunderland, says new skipper Dean Whitehead.

Crystal Palace dug in last night to deny the Black Cats a win that would have taken them to within four points of second-placed Birmingham City, who lost 3-1 at home to relegation-threatened Southend.

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And Whitehead admits the Wearsiders will probably have to find a strategy for breaking down packed defences in their eight remaining home games – starting against Coventry on Saturday.

A goalless draw against the Eagles saw Roy Keane’s men fall a place in the Championship to ninth, two points away from the play-offs.

Whitehead said: “Palace came with a game plan. They’d had us watched, packed midfield and put nine or ten players behind the ball all the time.

“It was difficult to up the tempo because the pitch is terrible.

“We got our point and a clean sheet and it’s better than nothing.

“But teams know what we’re about. They know we’re a good side when we pass it so we could be in for a frustrating few games.

“Coventry come here on Saturday now and we have to hope they’ll have a go at us a bit more, but I’d be surprised if they do.”

“Colchester’s 1-0 home win over third-placed Preston took them above the Black Cats, while Stoke, in seventh, could also only manage a goalless home draw against Ipswich.

League leaders Derby went 12 points clear of Sunderland and stretched their advantage over Birmingham at the top to six points with a 1-0 home win over Burnley.

Whitehead said: We’re desperate for the points to get in the top six, but it wasn’t to be last night.

“If a point is the best we can get then we have to take that and be happy with it.

“We might have pushed too hard for a goal last night and got caught by a sucker punch.

“I expect Coventry will come here and go 4-5-1 against us and if that’s the case we’ll have to work hard in the final third of the pitch for our chances.”

The paperwork was not completed in time for new signing Stern John to be involved last night and he will hope for a debut against his former club at the weekend.

His physical presence could gibe the Wearsiders a more direct route forward if they need that as an option and Whitehead added: “ Stern is strong in the air and good on the deck.”

ROY FEARS THE WORST OVER MILLER

ROY KEANE is gloomy about the hamstring injury Liam Miller suffered in last night’s statement with Crystal Palace.

And the Sunderland boss fears his in-form midfielder could be out for weeks.

Miller has been influential during the Black Cats’ climb towards a promotion challenge, but went down unchallenged in the 76th minute last night and was replaced by Daryl Murphy.

Keane said: “Liam Miller has a hamstring injury so that’s a disappointment. It’ll be a few weeks for him.”

Keane must now decide who will replace Miller in the engine room, with Grant Leadbitter and skipper Dean Whitehead the obvious options. The Sunderland boss will be without long-term absentee Graham Kavanagh (knee) for several more weeks.

Meanwhile, it is not expected that the Wearsiders will make any further additions to the squad before the transfer window closes tonight.

Keane has trailed a left-back, but is set to settle for the six January captures he has made in Stern John, Anthony Stokes, Jonny Evans, Danny Simpson,Carlos Edwards and Marton Fulop who made his loan spell from Spurs into a permanent switch.