Defensive concerns for Sunderland at Aston Villa

Billy Jones in action for Sunderland against Hull City. Picture by FRANK REID
Billy Jones in action for Sunderland against Hull City. Picture by FRANK REID
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GUS POYET faces a defensive headache for tomorrow’s trip to Aston Villa, with Celtic centre-half Virgil van Dijk unlikely to offer Sunderland some respite in the January transfer window.

Full-back Billy Jones returned from more than two months on the sidelines in yesterday’s miserable defeat to Hull City, yet Sunderland boss Poyet continues to be down to the bare bones in terms of his defensive options.

Centre-half Wes Brown wasn’t risked against the struggling Tigers, while Santiago Vergini only passed a fitness test less than two hours before kick-off.

With full-backs Anthony Reveillere and Patrick van Aanholt on the sidelines too, Poyet admits he will have to be cautious with his back-line at Villa Park, as Sunderland look to bounce back from their post-derby bubble bursting against Hull.

“We need to be careful, especially at the back,” said Poyet.

“We’ll have to look at Billy today and see whether he can play two games inside 48 hours.

“We’ve got some issues and we need to sort it out the best we can; adapting to the players and the games.

“There are a few I know who can do it and there are others who have it a bit more difficult.

“Consistency needs to come into the equation as well, not changing eight or nine players.

“You have to be realistic and play the games in a certain way.”

As the Echo reported earlier this month, in-demand Celtic defender van Dijk is a name who remains on Sunderland’s shopping list after the Black Cats held talks with the SPL Champions over the Dutch international last summer.

At that stage, Poyet – who had scouted van Dijk as a youngster in Holland when he was Brighton manager – was wary of paying £10million for a player untested in the Premier League.

Poyet revealed earlier this month that Sunderland were likely to wait until the summer to sign a new long-term centre-half, with Wes Brown and John O’Shea reaching the end of their careers and Sebastian Coates and Santiago Vergini only at the Stadium of Light on loan deals.

And when asked about van Dijk yesterday, Poyet said: “We were in talks with them (Celtic) from the past, but there’s a certain amount of money you can have, so I think it’s a bit too early.”