The Black Cats come into the match off the back of a 2-2 draw at home to Queens Park Rangers at the weekend. Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart put them in a commanding position only for the opposition goalkeeper to come forward to score an equaliser in stoppage time.
They were also hit with a significant injury blow in the match as summer signing Daniel Ballard was forced off the pitch within the opening ten minutes of the game.
The centre-back has now been ruled out for an unspecified amount of time, with Neil telling the club’s official website:
“It is difficult to put a timescale on it,”
“We have a few other scans to undertake – and a couple of specialists to see – to fully understand the severity of it, but that process is underway to ensure he then receives the necessary treatment to get him back as soon as we can.”
Neil must now replace the former Arsenal man in the starting line up and he should unleash the versatile Luke O’Nien from the start tonight.
O’Nien won six of his seven individual duels and made five interceptions in the match. Dennis Cirkin and Danny Batth, who both played the full 90 minutes, won a lower percentage of their battles and only made three interceptions between them.
This shows that he was stronger than his fellow centre-backs and read the game more effectively as he cut out opposition attacks more often than both of them combined.
Therefore, he was the best player in the back three on the day as he stood out ahead of Cirkin and Batth defensively, despite being chucked in at the deep end in the first-half due to the injury.
He was needed badly in that situation to deal with the blow and that is the casee again tonight. Neil is without Ballard for the clash with the Blades and O’Nien should be unleashed as they need the strong defending he showcased against QPR, given how superior he was to his colleagues.
The former Wycombe man proved that he can slot into that position and not look out of place at Championship level and that is why he must be named in the starting XI to fill the right centre-back slot that is now in desperate need of an occupant.