Lee Johnson monitoring fresh defensive concerns after late change to his Sunderland XI

Lee Johnson confirmed that Conor McLaughlin's late withdrawal from the Sunderland XI was due to ongoing concerns from a hernia operation earlier in the season.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 6:00 am

McLaughlin had been set to return to the side at the DW Stadium on Tuesday night, but played next to no part in the warm up and was replaced by Bailey Wright, who was himself returning from a calf problem.

Johnson also revealed after the 2-1 defeat that Dion Sanderson has been managing a back problem, leaving him short of options at the back.

The head coach nevertheless said those concerns were not a factor in the defeat, which has left their automatic promotion hopes hanging by a thread.

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Conor McLaughlin was forced to withdraw from Tuesday night's defeat to Wigan

"Conor had a hernia problem on one side and an injection in that, and that has left a weakness on the other side," Johnson said.

"I don't know whether it will settle down or whether he will have to go again, but it was pretty frustrating because there were no warning signs, just as soon as he started warming-up he said 'I can't run'."

"In an ideal world, Bailey would have had a couple of 90 minutes for the Under-23s, but it wasn’t just Bailey, there were two or three on the pitch who weren’t quite right," he added.

"Dion Sanderson's back has been an issue all week. We were a little bit light in that area, but at the same time I don’t think that’s any excuse because it wasn’t really central defence that cost us."

The defeat left the Black Cats five points adrift of Peteborough United, with the two sides now having played the same amount of games.

Sunderland's top-two ambitions are no longer in their own hands, but Johnson said he remained positive about the prospects for his side between now and the end of the season.

"I think that we can win any individual game," he said.

"In this division if we're at it, I believe we can win any individual game so it will depend on [that], it's not in our hands now.

"We've still got Hull to play which is a positive and we've got to turn up, nowhere near enough of us did today."