The Sunderland youngster who just became key to Alex Neil's plans and promotion hopes

If there was one downside to Sunderland's emphatic win over Cambridge United, it was the sight of Carl Winchester limping off inside the opening ten minutes.
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Sunderland do not yet know the extent of the groin injury, but Alex Neil noted afterwards that Winchester is a player who would grin and bear anything not too serious. The Northern Irishman's dejection as he left the pitch seemed to tell its own story.

Neil has spoken of 'pillars' in his team, players whose consistency has created the stability that has in turn seen results improve significantly.

Winchester is one; Dennis Cirkin another.

Sunderland defender Callum DoyleSunderland defender Callum Doyle
Sunderland defender Callum Doyle
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Both have played in unfamiliar roles that have helped Neil solve the team's defensive issues, offering both pace and poise on the ball either side of Bailey Wright. It has made Sunderland less vulnerable to the counter attack, and ensured they can still get enough players into the final third to hurt the opposition.

In recent weeks, it has also allowed for Nathan Broadhead to come into the starting XI without loosening the team's impressive defensive shape.

But Cirkin will play no part in the final week of the campaign, and it seems reasonable to assume that will be the same with Winchester.

Sunderland's longer-term lack of options in the full back positions will be exposed again, and it now seems certain that Neil will turn to Callum Doyle as he bids to get his side over the line in the race for the top six.

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Neil initially turned to Winchester to step in for Cirkin on Saturday, but afterwards he revealed that was primarily because Doyle's training load after illness had not been enough to consider him for a start.

Thrown in unexpectedly, the Manchester City loanee did well even if the circumstances of the game quickly came to suit him. With little defensive pressure, Doyle drove out with the ball and broke lines with his passing as he so often did in those first few months of the season.

A regular under Lee Johnson, this was only his fifth appearance under Neil.

That was no reflection of his ability, Neil of the belief that he had been overplayed and was as a result at risk of a major burnout.

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A minor hip problem and more recently some illness issues have hampered his chances of getting in the XI, but now he looks to be a key figure again if Sunderland are to get out of the third tier at the fourth time of asking.

Rotherham United, for all their recent struggles, have still beaten Ipswich Town and Oxford United in April. An aggressive, attacking side, they will pose an altogether sterner test not just for Doyle but the entire defensive unit.

Neil does of course have the option of bringing Arbenit Xhemajli back into the side given how well he can deal with direct sides, but alongside Wright and Danny Batth he may feel that leaves his side lacking pace and quality on the ball.

In front of Doyle, it may well be that Neil looks to switch Patrick Roberts with a more defensive wing back, possibly Luke O'Nien or even Lynden Gooch.

Regardless, it looks as if the Manchester City loanee will be given the chance to end an ultimately impressive season on a high.