The Sunderland youngster who could become crucial as Lee Johnson battles a defensive injury crisis

There was frustration but also an element of resignation as Lee Johnson discussed Hull City's goals on Tuesday night.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 10:00 am

Johnson was disappointed with the errors made and eager to see them rectified, but recognised both the quality of Hull City and the challenges his backline are facing.

He has two midfielders playing out of position, while Bailey Wright has, in Johnson's own words, had to be 'slammed in' to three games in a week after two months on the sidelines.

The concern is that the prospect of the situation improving in the near future looks remote.

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Sunderland youngster Ollie Younger

Conor McLaughlin could return for a play-off campaign, but is unlikely to be available before then.

Dion Sanderson looks to be in a similar boat and at the moment there is no return date yet for Tom Flanagan, for who is struggling in his recovery from a foot problem.

It poses a dilemma for Johnson, because if Sunderland do face the play-offs as now seems almost certain, he will have to manage the limited options he has at his disposal.

One obvious solution is the return of Denver Hume. His recovery from two serious hamstring issues has been carefully managed but the time for a regular run is clearly nigh.

Johnson must too be considering more starts for Ollie Younger, in a bid to ensure Wright and Luke O'Nien don't enter a play-off campaign fatigued.

Younger's appearances have been relatively limited this season but his brief showings have suggested a player capable of stepping up to the League One challenge.

In February, following the setback that brought an early conclusion to Jordan Willis' campaign, Johnson said that Younger was a player he trusted even if there is always an element of uncertainty with a defender so inexperienced.

"I do trust Ollie Younger, I think he is a great kid," Johnson said.

“I haven’t seen him enough in games yet to know whether he can handle that situation, but as a personality and in terms of his performances in training, he has been really impressive."

His league debut took a little longer than expected to materialise, but in early March he produced a composed 50 minutes as Rochdale were comfortably beaten at the Stadium of Light.

Stepping in at right back, the responsibility to join in attacks from full back was clearly a different brief to his usual role in the middle, but defensively he was excellent.

There was one particularly superb intervention just before the break, clearing a dangerous cross to protect his team's then slender lead.

"We've got total trust and belief in Ollie, he's been training really well and I thought it was a very accomplished debut," Jamie McAllister said afterwards.

"He's shown from day one that we can trust him.

"He's strong and powerful, good 1-v-1, and he just loves defending, he has a great attitude on that.

"There've been a few games where we've almost put him in.

"He handled it really well today."

When the salary cap came into force last summer, investing in the U23 side was seen as a way both to improve that team’s poor results, while also bolstering the depth of the senior manager's options.

As Johnson attempts to navigate another hectic fortnight, Younger is an option he will surely have to consider.

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