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Injury fortune swinging back in Sunderland's favour? Update on Watmore & McNair

A month ago David Moyes had just twelve fit senior outfield players and a bench made up of academy products. Sunderland might have been thrashed on Saturday but the squad looked stronger than it has for some time. Meanwhile, our relegation rivals and upcoming opponents have their own significant issues. Here's the latest on the injury merry-go-round as the Premier League season reaches a crucial period.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The worst injury problem in the league

Exactly a month ago, figures revealed Sunderland had lost 1000 days to injury this season and had suffered by far the worst crocked squad in the Premier League. They've lost a few more since as well.

Burnley v Sunderland - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

That was mid-January and David Moyes was padding out his side with academy products making up a forlorn looking bench against the likes of Stoke City, Burnley and West Brom - a trio of sides who all comprehensively outplayed Sunderland.

But, things are looking a little brighter, and though there is no 'strongest side' yet on the horizon, at least for several more weeks, there are reasons elsewhere in the Premier League to be cheerful as the relegation run-in restarts in earnest a week on Saturday. Let's take a look.

Our own issues

It was almost laughable that Victor Anichebe returned from a hamstring injury as a second half substitute against West Brom in January only to launch himself into a tackle and damage a ligament in his knee. Sunderland won't see much of Big Vic this season - he's not due back until mid-April.

Burnley v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Jan Kirchhoff has only featured seven times for Sunderland this campaign. Presently out with torn cartilage in his knee, the big German may make a return to first team duties in the middle of March.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Lee Cattermole faces a race to get himself back and ready for selection when Sunderland need him most and he may be back at around the same time as Kirchhoff. The Middlesbrough derby match may see him back in the squad, though the bench might be as good as he can muster for that one.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Paddy McNair and Duncan Watmore won't be seen again this season. Both suffered cruciate ligament damage earlier in the campaign and it's easy to forget that neither are likely to be fully returned to their peak physical state until the back end of this year.

We understand that surgery on both players went well with McNair in slightly worse shape than Watmore. Even when both return to first team action it will take time for them to be functioning as they were before the injuries.

Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

McNair being the more technical of the pair, he will take time to re-find his touch and Watmore's reckless abandon and pace will be replaced by some trepidation for a while. For players at their age, a wasted twelve months of development is the sorry outcome of cruel lengthy lay-offs.

Jack Rodwell and Jordan Pickford both have a great chance of making the squad for the Everton match a week on Saturday.

The latter has already spoken of his belief he will be in the frame for a recall at Goodison Park. Pickford has missed seven Premier League games since injuring his knee on Boxing Day. And, last week David Moyes suggested the hamstring problem Rodwell is suffering is not serious and that he should make a return in two to three weeks - a timescale which should have him roughly back in the squad for our next match.

Upcoming opponents

Everton are our next opponents and their main threat Romelu Lukaku has been left behind as his teammates jetted off to Dubai for a mid-season training camp this week. The striker will instead travel to Belgium for treatment on a calf injury.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Lukaku has an exemplary injury record during his Everton career, he's only ever missed eight matches in his three-and-a-half year spell on Merseyside. The Blues are insisting he will be fit for David Moyes' return to Goodison but there's a chance he won't make it. Good news perhaps - Lukaku tortured the Sunderland defence when the sides met in September.

Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley definitely won't be available for Ronald Koeman's side when Sunderland visit on 25th February.

Sunderland's next home game is no walk in the park either when Manchester City are the visitors. But, Pep Guardiola's baptism of fire to English football has continued this week with the news his January signing Gabriel Jesus is ruled out for three months. The Brazilian has scored three goals in his first four games in the Premier League. Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan is also out long term.

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Relegation Rivals

It's Hull City who now top the injury league with ten players out. Key figures such as Curtis Davies, Dieumerci Mbokani, Michael Dawson, Abel Hernandez and Ryan Mason are all recent casualties as the Tigers face Burnley next, followed by successive fixtures against relegation rivals Leicester and Swansea. Desperate times on Humberside - with a bit of luck.

Hull City v Manchester United - EFL Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg
A message of support for Ryan Mason who suffered a fractured skull last month playing for Hull against Chelsea.
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace aren't shaping up too badly at present though they are missing captain Scott Dann. Swansea have no new fresh injury concerns, though Leon Britton is doubtful for their next game which is a daunting trip to Chelsea.

Middlesbrough and Bournemouth remain relatively free from injuries while Leicester are sweating on a few. Jamie Vardy, Leonardo Ulloa and Danny Simpson are among the Foxes players currently carrying knocks.