Sunderland suffer ANOTHER defensive injury blow as Alex Neil discusses replacing Dan Ballard in the transfer market

Alex Neil’s defensive problems have deepened with Carl Winchester facing a spell on the sidelines.

Dan Ballard will be absent for the foreseeable future after suffering a fractured foot, and though Neil is not at this stage willing to put a timeframe on it publicly it is expected that he will likely be out for at least two months.

That leaves Neil short of cover on the right of the back three he is currently operating with, as Ballard excelled in that role at the start of the season.

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Carl Winchester, who played the same role to significant success during the initial turnaround in form under Neil last season, is now struggling with a back problem.

Sunderland defender Dan Ballard

He has not featured in any of the matchday squads this season, though he did play against Sheffield Wednesday in the first round of the Carabao Cup last season.

“Unfortunately for us, at the moment, Winny [Winchester] is injured, so he’s out for a little while,” Neil said.

“I think he’s due to see the specialist tomorrow, so we’ll get a better idea of that one then. That’s why, at the moment, he isn’t in contention for a role in the backline.

“It’s a problem with his back and we’ll find out the full extent once he’s seen the specialist.”

Neil was asked whether the injury to Ballard has changed his list of priorities in the transfer market, pushing a right-sided centre back higher up the list.

The head coach has previously said that he wants ‘four or five’ additions before the window closes at the end of the month.

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Neil said that it had become more of a priority, but warned that the search would not be straightforward.

"Yeah, Dan has been a key signing for us, he’s got mobility, he’s good on the ball, big and strong, his best years are ahead of him,” Neil said.

"He’s everything we want in a signing.

"Realistically, those players are really, really hard to come by, particularly for what we can afford. I could give you a list of players right now, in fact I’ve got a list in my draw, but the difficult part is: what can you get for where we are and what we’re trying to do.”

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On Monday night, Neil offered this initial prognosis of Ballard’s injury: “Dan has a small fracture in his foot.

“He’s going to be out for the foreseeable future, but it is difficult to put a timescale on it.

“We have a few other scans to undertake – and a couple of specialists to see – to fully understand the severity of it, but that process is underway to ensure he then receives the necessary treatment to get him back as soon as we can.

“It is disappointing for Dan and it is disappointing for us, as he has been a great signing show far, albeit we have only played a few games, and showed real promise and potential.

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“It is a setback for Dan, but equally he will come back and hopefully be stronger for it.”