Tom Flanagan recalled to Sunderland squad for Wycombe clash

Tom Flanagan has been granted an early return to Sunderland
Tom Flanagan has been granted an early return to Sunderland
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Sunderland have been handed a massive boost with Tom Flanagan available to face Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday afternoon.

Flanagan has established himself as a first choice centre-back under Jack Ross, catching the attention of Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill.

Flanagan won his second consecutive call up as Northern Ireland prepared to face the Republic of Ireland and Austria.

However, after talks with Ross, O'Neill released Flanagan from the squad.

The pair know each other well and O'Neill is encouraged by Flanagan's emergence as a genuine option at the heart of defence.

He is keen for him to continue his progression at Sunderland and keep his place in the side, in order to establish himself as firm competition for the likes of Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart.

The Northern Irish boss said: "I think the team is getting stronger, there’s a youthfulness about it and maybe more pace than there has been. In terms of the game on Sunday we’ll see where we go but what I do have is 28 players.

"We’ve let Tom Flanagan go back to Sunderland to play on Saturday but there’ a bunch of lads desperate to play.

"We’ll probably make a few changes for Sunday. I know everyone will be itching to play."

His release has allowed Flanagan to train on Thursday and Friday with his Sunderland teammates.

Ross was keen not to postpone the game with Wycombe and will be pleased to keep a successful defence together.

Jon McLaughlin, Adam Matthews, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin and Reece James have started the last five league games, keeping four clean sheets on the bounce.

McLaughlin was also released from the Scotland squad for this round of fixtures, though Ross insisted that he would never stand in the way of a player wanting to play for his country.

"I spoke to Alex [McLeish] yesterday and I'd had a chat to Jon previously to that," Ross said.

"I was very clear to Alex that I would never stand in the way of any of my players being involved in their international team, but we're in a unique situation where we have international players but can't get games automatically called off for being in the Premier League or Championship.

"That is a challenge for international managers as well, because they're obviously selecting their squads on who they would like available.

"So I had a chat with Alex and explained that our game with Wycombe would be going ahead and that Jon was obviously third choice in that squad.

"Between us, we agreed that it would be good for Jon to play in that fixture for us, so I'm very grateful to Alex for how helpful he was and how understanding he was of the position we were in in, and that it wasn't down to a lack of desire from Jon to be involved."