MARTIN O’NEILL admits the loss of Carlos Cuellar is a “blow” to Sunderland’s hopes after the summer signing instantly made himself at home on Wearside.
Cuellar will miss tomorrow’s trip to West Ham and could be out for several weeks after a scan showed the 30-year-old sustained damage to his hamstring in last weekend’s clash with Liverpool.
Titus Bramble, who replaced Cuellar at half-time in the 1-1 draw, is set to replace the Spaniard, although O’Neill will only have to make one change to his back four with on-loan Spurs left-back Danny Rose shrugging off a groin problem.
But the Sunderland boss is not hiding his disappointment at the diagnosis on Cuellar, who has immediately settled both on and off-the-pitch since penning a two-year deal at the Stadium of Light in the summer.
O’Neill told the Echo: “It is a blow, I must admit. He has done very, very well since he’s been here.
“It seems like he’s been here a lifetime whereas it’s only been a couple of matches. Not only that, he sorted out a place here within days of him coming.
“Carlos felt his hamstring when he headed the ball back that came up short against Liverpool, but he continued on. When he said at half-time that he was unable to continue, he doesn’t throw it in easily.
“He had the scan on Wednesday which showed something. I’m not entirely sure of the length of time, but at least he’s a reasonably good healer.”
Bramble has started just one Premier League game in 2012 after being hampered by an Achilles problem throughout the second half of last season.
O’Neill has no worries over Bramble’s ability, but admits the major problem with the 31-year-old is managing his fitness.
“Titus’ problems are always about staying fit,” said O’Neill. “I remember Sir Bobby Robson talking about the potential he had when he was a kid. You can actually see that the injuries have prevented him from being what he could have been.
“It’s always a balancing act here during the week, with the amount of work you do with him.
“He’s willing to do it, but then you have to balance that with swelling of the knees and stuff. The rest of his career is going to be a battle like that.
“But I’ve done it before with Martin Laursen, the big Danish centre-half at Aston Villa.
“When I went to Aston Villa first of all, he was actually limping when he walked. I thought he’d got no chance. But he said he’d be all right if he could manage himself.
“As it turned out he was immense, but he never trained during the week.”
Meanwhile, England winger Adam Johnson remains a doubt for the trip to Upton Park after missing the Liverpool game with a thigh injury.
Johnson played some part in training yesterday and he will be assessed by Sunderland’s medical team again today before O’Neill makes a late decision on the 25-year-old.
“We were hoping when he came back from England that it would clear up,” added O’Neill.
“We thought he might have made it for Liverpool, but on Friday morning he was still feeling it having trained on Thursday and not done so badly.”
“Rather than risking him, we left it another week, I was reasonably hopeful last week, maybe this extra week will help but I couldn’t be certain.”