Black Cats boss Alex Neil has hinted at the summer signing’s knock from the 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers at the weekend being a serious one.
The centre-back was forced off after suffering an injury to his foot in the ninth minute and the Scottish head coach has confirmed that it does not look good for the youngster.
He told the Shields Gazette: “It’s a massive blow.
“Dan is a key player, we’ve spent money on him to improve the squad. We’ve lost him, and it just shows where we are. We’re light.
“We’ve lost a signing we’ve brought in, if you look at the squad today we’ve only had two starters from who we signed in the summer, and now we’ve lost one of them.
“It doesn’t look good for Dan.”
The Black Cats boss will surely be left frustrated by this injury blow for multiple reasons.
Firstly, it was caused by a challenge from a QPR player that did not result in a free-kick to Sunderland. The referee deemed there to be nothing wrong with the tackle and now the club may be without Ballard for a number of matches, although no exact timeline has been placed on his return.
Neil will also be frustrated by this knock because of the potential Ballard has to be a standout performer for him in the Championship.
It is difficult to judge his performance so far as he has only played two-and-a-bit matches whilst settling into a new team, but he enjoyed a superb spell on loan at Millwall last term.
In the second tier in 2021/22, the former Arsenal man averaged a SofaScore rating of 6.95 and recorded scores of 7.00 or higher in each of his last five appearances. The gem won 64% of his individual duels in that time as he stood up to the physical tests of the division at the age of 22.
These statistics suggest that Ballard could be a huge upgrade on the pair once he gets back from injury and is able to reach the levels he hit last term. Such is his perceived importance to the side, journalist Josh Bunting has Tweeted that the club “simply can’t afford to lose (Ballard) this season”.
Therefore, Neil will be frustrated that he will now have to cope without the 22-year-old for an undetermined period of time.