Sunderland have been dealt a huge injury blow ahead of their League One play-off run-in.
In a statement posted on the club website, Lee Johnson confirmed that the on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers defender, Dion Sanderson, has been ruled out for around six weeks due to a back injury, meaning the 21-year-old looks set to miss the remainder of the Black Cats’ campaign.
Speaking to SAFC.com, Johnson said: “Dion will be out for six weeks. He’s a good personality and a great kid first and foremost, but the bit that most impressed me was how he stepped up in the leadership and communications skills areas, which shows he has a bright future. It’s a big blow.”
Following their loss to Blackpool on Tuesday evening, Sunderland’s next two league fixtures against Plymouth Argyle and Northampton Town have pretty much become must-win games for Johnson’s side, as the Black Cats now sit in fourth place in the League One standings, a mere four points above Oxford United in seventh. If they fail to win one of the games, they could easily find themselves missing out on the play-offs altogether.
As such, the news of a serious injury to a player Johnson dubbed a “Rolls-Royce” will have undoubtedly come as a huge blow for the 39-year-old, not only because the Wolves loanee has highly impressed over his 26 League One appearances for the club – averaging a SofaScore match rating of 6.92 – but also because of the fact that three of the club’s other centre-backs – Arbenit Xhemajli, Jordan Willis and Tom Flanagan – are also sidelined due to injury.
This means that Johnson will have to persevere with playing Luke O’Nien out of position in the centre of defence, in addition to playing central midfielder Max Power at right-back, for the foreseeable future, something which would not appear to bode overly well for what remains of Sunderland’s season – as the club are now winless in their last seven fixtures.
However, on a slightly brighter note, Johnson did suggest that right-back Conor McLaughlin could be available for the Northampton game, while also hinting that Flanagan could also be back for the club’s potential play-off fixtures – if they can manage to hold on to their top-six spot.
Still, losing Sanderson ahead of such crucial games is a huge blow, one that Johnson will be gutted about.