GIVEN the events of this week, it’s hard to see Titus Bramble being involved in Saturday’s game against West Brom.
And that being the case, boss Steve Bruce has some difficult decisions to make over his team selection when it comes to defence.
Sunderland have not particularly shone at either end of the pitch this season – averaging only a goal a game in their seven Premier League matches so far and with only one clean sheet from those fixtures.
But Bruce would have felt that his defence was at least taking shape with fit-again John O’Shea looking to regain his match sharpness alongside former Manchester United team-mate Wes Brown in an uncompromising back-four featuring centre-half Bramble and left-back Phil Bardsley.
Those plans though have been thrown into total disarray with the early-season four-match suspension of Phil Bardsley and now the troubles Bramble has found himself in legally this week.
Bardsley serves the third match of his four-match ban this weekend and with Bramble almost certain to be absent, Bruce will look to re-jig his back four for the fourth time in eight games.
With Bardsley and Bramble out, the obvious option would be to move John O’Shea to centre-half alongside Wes Brown and drop right-sided Ahmed Elmohamady into the right-back position that O’Shea has occupied this season.
A simpler option would be to make a straight swap and bring Michael Turner in for Bramble, leaving O’Shea at right-back.
That move would have the benefit of making least change to the defence, but there’s a big question mark over Turner’s fitness and match sharpness and with West Brom boasting a particularly mobile and pacey strikeforce in Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long, Bruce might decide against exposing a defender he rates so highly but accepts is still battling to regain his best form.
Even in the current situation, out of favour central defensive duo Nyron Nosworthy and Matt Kilgallon are unlikely to be considered.
The most radical move would be to offer a debut to promising young centre-half Louis Laing and again leave O’Shea at right-back.
But this would be the most high-risk strategy of all.
Great things are hoped for in the future for the 18-year-old ball-playing centre-half, but with the club struggling for form is this any time for a novice?
The final decision will come down to the manager, who best knows the form and fitness of every one of his players, as well as the strategy he wishes to employ against opponents who are dangerous on their day but have so far failed to sparkle and currently lie in the bottom three.
The only thing that can be said for certain is that the selection decision the manager faces when it comes to his back four is not an easy one and one he could really have done without, given his current woes.