Lee Johnson has breathed fresh life into this Sunderland team and they are now currently sitting comfortably in the playoff places.
Though, if there was one negative to take from his reign at the Stadium of Light, it would be constant injury problems.
Johnson’s tenure has been plagued with fitness and injury concerns. At the moment, he has three centre-backs missing in Bailey Wright, Jordan Willis and Tom Flanagan. He is also missing his full-backs in Conor McLaughlin and Denver Hume.
You can also add new signing Ross Stewart to that list and midfield stalwart Grant Leadbitter too.
The 35-year-old limped off the field of play during Sunderland’s draw with Crewe after just a matter of minutes. Leadbitter had been introduced as a substitute but went down holding his shoulder and he looked to be in some pain.
A stretcher was brought onto the field but fortunately, he was able to walk from the field of play. That being said, he suffered a dislocation to his shoulder and will now face a period on the sidelines.
The good news is that it won’t require surgery. However, if Leadbitter was to suffer the same injury again, he would have to go under the knife.
With Luke O’Nien currently playing at centre-back and Max Power playing at right-back, it leaves Johnson’s side quite stretched in the middle of the park.
Elliot Embleton was loaned out in the January transfer window too so the manager could have to pick from the club’s academy crop to fill the void.
Carl Winchester has now started successive games but if they’re looking for alternative options, they simply have to unleash Daniel Neil.
The 19-year-old made a late cameo in the dying embers during Sunderland’s 2-0 win over Rochdale, an appearance that marked just his second in League One. He is rarely seen in the first-team but as Johnson’s selection of Oliver Younger told us last weekend, there is a space for young talent if they work hard.
Neil certainly has those qualities and could add a sense of freshness to the Sunderland midfield if chosen. Possessing the ability to play as a number 10 or slightly further back, there are plenty of roles to suit his qualities and attributes.
Those already with the Mackems obviously rate him highly too. Speaking about the teenager just before the season kicked off, O’Nien commented: “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.”
Johnson has favoured two more defensive-minded players in his midfield since taking charge but he evidently loves attacking players. You only need to look at the way Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke have contributed this term. Between them, they have been involved in 35 league goals.
Add a more offensive player in the style of Neil to the equation and you could see the Black Cats scoring even more.
It’s a frightening prospect but Neil could certainly get more game time now. Leadbitter’s injury has opened up a vacant spot that Sunderland’s youngsters could benefit from.