Sunderland boss Alex Neil gives an update on his defensive injuries after Luke O'Nien call

Alex Neil hopes to have Dennis Cirkin and Callum Doyle back for Sunderland's play-off semi final against Sheffield Wednesday.

By Phil Smith
Sunday, 1st May 2022, 6:00 am

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Cirkin has been absent with a calf problem while Doyle was another absentee as the Black Cats secured their top-six spot with a 1-0 win over Morecambe.

That forced Luke O'Nien into the back three, with the versatile midfielder producing a solid display alongside Bailey Wright and Danny Batth.

Neil said he was pleased with the 27-year-old's performance as he largely contained Dylan Connolly.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil

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The Sunderland head coach explained: “It was a particular type of job today for Luke. I’m sure some people will be thinking, ‘Why are we playing a midfield player at left-sided centre-back?’ But if you look at the lad Connolly, his biggest attribute is pace.

"He wants to get in behind and he sucks people under the ball, then uses his pace in behind.

"Luke, for what we’ve got left, has the best tools to deal with that. We’ve come into the game today with a lot of players missing. Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of players unavailable for a variety of reasons.

"But we’ve managed to put a team together that’s got the job done. Credit to the lads. I’m pleased with Luke for coming in and doing that role."

O'Nien would be a contender to slot into the back three should Cirkin or Doyle not recover, but Neil remains hopeful that he will have at least one of the pair back.

“I would hope Dennis would be available, although I can’t really commit to anything at this stage," Neil said.

"I don’t what the answer is just now, but let’s just say that he’s got a chance.

"It’s not one where we’re looking and saying, ‘He’s definitely out’. He’s certainly got a chance.

“Callum was injured. I hope it’s not too serious. I don’t think it is because while I wouldn’t say we had a fitness test [on Friday], he went out to try it and try to train. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it."

Neil may have to reconsider the 3-5-2 shape he is used through recent weeks if Nathan Broadhead is not available, after being substituted due to injury in the first half of the Morecambe win.