NEW SIGNING Alfred N’Diaye will NOT be used as a makeshift centre-half despite Martin O’Neill’s defensive headache.
Sunderland boss O’Neill is down to the bare bones at the back for tomorrow’s Stadium of Light encounter against West Ham, with Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon expected to form a new partnership in central defence.
Carlos Cuellar and long-term injury victim Wes Brown are both sidelined, while John O’Shea is still not 100 per cent, although the 31-year-old did participate in training yesterday.
O’Neill is in the hunt for a centre-half during the January transfer window, with Groningen’s Virgil van Dijk and Al Hilal’s Kader Mangane linked with a move to Wearside.
Van Dijk, 21, has also been rumoured to be interesting Everton, while speculation continues over a loan move for Senegal’s Mangane, who left French club Rennes for Saudi Arabia last summer after he had been targeted by West Ham and Arsenal.
But until reinforcements arrive, Sunderland’s first January signing, N’Diaye (pictured), has been touted as a potential emergency solution to the Black Cats’ defensive crisis.
The 6ft 2in tough-tackling midfielder has been used in central defence for France Under-21s, yet O’Neill insists he will only use the £3.8million arrival from Bursaspor in the middle of the park.
O’Neill told the Echo: “The situation at centre-half is becoming a real problem to us at the moment.
“But playing N’Diaye there is not really something I am considering.
“I think he has played centre-back for the France Under-21 team, but it’s not something I would want to risk.
“He’s a good lad and he’s athletic and can get up and down the field, but I’m not so sure that heading the ball is his strongest point.”
Sunderland are still awaiting international clearance on N’Diaye in time for the 22-year-old to make his debut against the Hammers, yet O’Neill is delighted to have signed a player he has been tracking since the summer.
“We are still waiting for international clearance, but we’re hoping to have that resolved pretty soon and in time for him to play,” said the Irishman.
“He’s a player I’ve been monitoring him for some considerable time.
“He was brought to my attention in July or August and I went out to see him when Bursaspor played Dutch side FC Twente in a Europa League qualifying game at the end of August and I have been keeping an eye on him ever since.
“He’s 22, very athletic and I’m hoping that when he settles down he’ll give us that bit of physicality we lack at the moment.
“I think he can still improve his game, but he is a young French lad who was prepared to leave his own country to go out to Turkey and play.
“At the price we paid for him, I think he will prove to be really good value.”
Cuellar and left-back Danny Rose have both been ruled out of tomorrow’s game with the hamstring injuries suffered against Bolton last weekend, although Stephane Sessegnon could return after missing the FA Cup third round clash with an ankle problem.
O’Neill said: “I think Danny will be out for less time than Carlos, but neither are in contention for this weekend.
“Stephane trained yesterday and is improving.
“John O’Shea did a little bit of training too, but his concern is that if he comes back and aggravates the injury again then he could be out for a really substantial period.
“That’s one that you just have to play by ear.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill says skipper Lee Cattermole is making good progress in his recovery from the knee ligament injury he sustained against QPR in November.
“Lee is coming along well,” added O’Neill. “He’s not joined in training with us yet, but he is not that far away.”