At the moment it feels like Sunderland’s players are dropping like flies.
Luke O’Nien is out until the New Year with a dislocated shoulder while Denver Hume is also missing through injury.
On top of that, Lynden Gooch is only just returning and as many as four players have tested positive for the dreaded pandemic.
Consequently, the Mackems have had their next three games stretching to Boxing Day postponed. They can count their lucky stars, particularly with Josh Scowen now also injured.
Lee Johnson revealed this week that the midfielder could miss around seven weeks of action with a shin injury. He told reporters: “The X-ray found a chip or a slight fracture to the shin, which is bad news. The best case scenario is that he will be out for three weeks, the worst case scenario is seven weeks.”
The good news, however, is that Sunderland have capable replacements.
Elliot Embleton started in his place during the 1-1 draw with Wimbledon but there was someone on the bench who could prosper amid the negative update on Scowen.
That happens to be Daniel Neill, a young midfield player who has played three times in the Papa John’s trophy this term.
In total, he has four senior appearances to his name for Sunderland but we’re yet to really see him emerge as a viable option. That could now change with players slim on the ground.
But why does he deserve an opportunity? Well, he’s incredibly highly-rated by some of his teammates.
That includes the injured O’Nien who only found positive words for Neill a few months ago. The 19-year-old impressed considerably in pre-season which leads us to believe he’s really on the radar of the club’s coaches.
O’Nien began: “Dan has been exceptional right throughout pre-season.”
The midfielder continued: “Every day in training, he’s like a dancer with those magic feet. He’s creating and scoring goals in training all the time.”
The fact he’s so creative should bode well. After all, Sunderland’s midfield is full of more defensive individuals like Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and George Dobson.
Neill hasn’t had the most productive of campaigns as far as his numbers go – providing one assist in six outings but he has emerged as a key player in an ever-improving U23 side.
It surely won’t be long before he gets regular opportunities at senior level. He certainly deserves a look in.