Sunderland's injury list in full and when Lee Johnson hopes key players could return
Sunderland are currently battling an injury crisis that has left Lee Johnson with just a handful of senior defenders available for selection.
The Head Coach also has some key concerns in other areas of the pitch at the start of a crucial month.
So what’s the situation and when could key players potentially return?
We run you through what you need to know here...
McLaughlin has had a very solid campaign and in recent weeks his versatility and experience has been key to Johnson as the injury crisis has forced him to use a variety of formations.
It made the recent setback that forced him to miss the win over Swindon Town all the more disappointing for Sunderland.
“Conor needs an injection on the back of the hernia operation he had,” Johnson said afterwards.
“He's just having a bit of pain so it's more than likely he'll be out again."
A prolonged absence looks unlikely but he is clearly a major doubt for the fixtures over the next week.
Johnson had hoped that Flanagan would be back in contention for this weekend's visit of Rochdale, but that now appears unlikely.
Speaking after the 2-2 draw with Crewe Alexandra, he said: "He's actually got a slightly deferred injury.
"I think when he's broken his foot he's been running differently, and he's then felt his calf. He's then I think been covering his calf and he's felt his hip flexor."
The Head Coach remains hopeful that the 29-year-old will be available soon and his versatility will clearly be key as Sunderland set out on a challenging run of fixtures against their promotion rivals.
Sunderland's defensive leader looks at this stage to be the closest to a first team return.
The experienced centre-half is recovering from a minor calf tear and Johnson revealed last week that he is targeting a return to action next week.
It's not clear yet whether he will be fit to face Portsmouth on Tuesday night, but Johnson has been confident that he will be able to face Tranmere Rovers in the Papa John's Trophy final.
Thay will be key, as the increasingly influential Dion Sanderson is cup tied.
Willis is not expected to return until around August after surgery on his patellar tendon.
Sunderland and Johnson hope that the lay-off will allow him to recover fully from a problem that had affected him for so time.
"I think 96 percent of players [who have this surgery] continue playing, and continue really well, so the odds are in his favour with an operation like this, given the modern techniques," Johnson said.
Willis' contract is set to expire this summer but Johnson has been clear that the defender has a long-term future at the club.
Xhemajli is not expected to play again this season as he recovers from an ACL injury and as a result, is not included on the club's EFL squad list.
The Black Cats hope he will be fit for next season, in whichever division that may be.
Johnson's most recent assessment of the timeframe puts Hume pushing for a comeback around mid-April, in a best case scenario.
However, the Head Coach was clear last week that it's a difficult injury to make a definitive assessment on at this stage.
Above all else, Sunderland are eager to ensure that no further damage is risked given that the talented youngster has already suffered one recurrence.
Johnson did say that he does expect Hume to play a part this season.
"I'm not sure when - it's very difficult to put a date on an injury like this because there are so many things to consider, like has it fully healed, does he feel confident with it, has he played 90 minutes for the U23s, is somebody playing ahead of him and doing well, is there a risk of a recurrence because if there is we wouldn't want to do that," he said.
"All I'd say is that he is very positive, which is a credit to his mindset because it wasn't easy having a recurrence of an injury like that."
"He's out running, moving about, if not with chaos involved, but at least in straight lines.
"We just have to build him up as best we can and support him."
Leadbitter suffered a dislocated shoulder at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday and was due to see a specialist on Wednesday to get a better sense of the damage.
The experienced and influential midfielder has been clear in telling his Head Coach that he is prepared to play through the pain barrier whenever possible, but Sunderland will wait for the verdict from the specialist before making any decisions.
“It was a bad one but he's quite strong minded in that he wants to be able to do what he can and get back as quick as possible and risk it, but we'll have to see,” Johnson said.
Gooch's influence on Tuesday night's game was growing on Tuesday night when he was forced to come in obvious discomfort.
Johnson confirmed after the game that the 25-year-old has suffered a calf problem.
The extent of the injury is not yet known and is being assessed by the Black Cats, but the versatile forward is very clearly a doubt for the fixtures on the immediate horizon.
Stewart is back running but speaking last week, Johnson said the club suspected his hamstring issue has not yet fully healed.
He should be in contention soon but the Head Coach has stressed that with his other strikers in good form, the January signing won't be rushed until he is fully fit.
"He is doing everything alright, but there's something that's just nipping him," Johnson said
"He's not fully confident in it, it's definitely physical rather than mental. It's not bad, it's just an ache.”