Duo set to answer Sunderland’s defensive SOS

SETS FOR STARTS: Valentin Roberge (left) and Modibo Diakite.
SETS FOR STARTS: Valentin Roberge (left) and Modibo Diakite.
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SUMMER SIGNINGS Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge are on stand-by to make only their second appearance together at Everton on Boxing Day.

Sunderland’s central defensive resources are stretched for Thursday’s trip to Goodison Park, with John O’Shea in danger of joining the injured Carlos Cuellar and the suspended Wes Brown on the sidelines.

The Black Cats opted against appealing the red card shown to Brown in last weekend’s stalemate with Norwich City, while skipper O’Shea suffered a shoulder problem in the second half against the Canaries.

O’Shea will be assessed today, but Bosman arrivals Roberge and Diakite could be paired together for the first time since September’s defeat to Arsenal.

Roberge has not started since Gus Poyet’s opening game in charge against Swansea, while Diakite has not featured at all since the departure of former boss Paolo Di Canio.

First-team coach Charlie Oatway told the Echo: “There was a lot of new players came in during pre-season, so I’m sure during the time they haven’t played, they’ve been able to adapt to the English life and mentality.

“You’d like to think they are a bit more settled than what they were two or three months ago.

“We will have to make one change in defence because of Wes’ suspension. We had John’s shoulder looked at yesterday and obviously we are hoping he is fit to play.

“John and Wes have done really well and it’s just a case of them (Diakite and Roberge) training every day and making sure that they are ready to play in the event that something like this does happen.

“It has happened, now they have to be ready and willing to play if needed and I am sure they are because they are professionals.”

The loss of Brown for the next three games against Everton, Cardiff and Aston Villa, is a major blow after the former England international’s stunning form since returning from 21 months on the sidelines.

Sunderland have registered four clean sheets in seven league games with Brown and O’Shea together in central defence after failing to register a single shut-out in the previous 10.

Oatway added: “Wes has had a couple of bad seasons with injuries.

“But, since we’ve been here, he’s made it perfectly clear that he wants to play if he gets half a chance, and if his body lets him.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to get him out on the pitch and ever since we have done that he’s been magnificent.

“The physios, the doctor and the medical staff have been brilliant with him as well, making sure that when we have to whack him in a cold bath or have a rest day or whatever, we’ve coped with that as well.

“We’ve been getting the rewards on the pitch in terms of his performances.

“So it is a big loss and let’s hope that we are in a better situation points-wise when he is back.”