This is why Sunderland will NOT be able to sign a new defender despite their triple injury blow

Lee Johnson is mulling over his defensive options after Sunderland’s triple injury blow – but what exactly are those options?

Friday, 16th April 2021, 2:34 pm

Dion Sanderson is struggling with a back problem which means he will miss the trip to Blackpool, while Conor McLaughlin has been forced to undergo a hernia operation.

Tom Flanagan also remains sidelined while Jordan Willis and Arbenit Xhemajli are longer-term absentees – leaving Sunderland’s options depleted.

So what options are there for Johnson? We take a look:

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Lee Johnson

Can Sunderland sign a free agent defender?

Sunderland will not be able to sign a new defender, given the EFL registration deadline has already passed.

While some leagues – most notably the National League – have extended their player registration deadlines into April, the EFL have not offered such an extension to clubs.

The EFL regulations state: “The fourth Thursday in March is the traditional ‘transfer deadline day’ and remains in place to ensure Clubs cannot add to their squad for the final remaining fixtures of a Season thus impacting on the integrity of the competition in those final stages.”

This means that no clubs can add to their squads after this point, other than on an emergency loan basis.

So can Sunderland sign a defender on an emergency loan basis?

Many have pointed to the fact that Peterborough United were allowed to sign an emergency loan goalkeeper last week, after injury to regular number one Christy Pym.

But if Sunderland’s defensive options are indeed depleted for the final weeks of the campaign, this is not an area they will be able to explore.

That’s because the EFL rules only allow goalkeepers to move on an emergency loan basis, rather than outfield players.

So if numbers are down, then Johnson may need to look at his internal options…

What options are currently on Sunderland’s books?

The good news is that Bailey Wright has now returned to the fold, meaning that – in a worst-case scenario – Sunderland will have at least one natural centre back available.

It would be little surprise to see Oliver Younger come back into the first-team fold, while Brandon Taylor may also be waiting in reserve should he be required.

As per the last EFL squad lists, submitted in February, these are all the central defenders currently on Sunderland’s books: Tom Flanagan, Conor McLaughlin, Jordan Willis, Bailey Wright, Dion Sanderson, Bobby Beaumont, Brandon Taylor, Oliver Younger.

Arbenit Xhemajli was omitted from the squad list given the long-term nature of his injury.

Sunderland’s options, then, look limited.

And what the injury concerns also mean is that Sunderland are likely to have to stick with a back four for the time being.

While the side have enjoyed some success in a 3-4-3, it’s hard to see how Johnson will be able to play that shape with his central defensive options so limited.

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