When Sunderland manager Chris Coleman met yesterday with the media ahead of our FA Cup clash with Middlesbrough, the biggest take - aside from the fact that the manager confirmed he’ll have next to no money to spend over the coming weeks - was that his paper-thin squad has been addled further by fresh injuries to players that would most certainly have played a part had they been fit.
Lynden Gooch and Adam Matthews are confirmed as missing, whilst Paddy McNair, Aiden McGeady and Marc Wilson are touch and go with regards to whether or not they’ll be involved.
They join long-term absentees Jonny Williams, Lewis Grabban, Lee Cattermole and Duncan Watmore in the treatment room, whilst the whereabouts of Lamine Kone, Didier Ndong and Jack Rodwell remain a mystery, with the trio all expected to be pushed towards the exit door as the month progresses.
Coleman also confirmed that key player Darren Gibson is expected to miss between eight and ten weeks with a groin tear, meaning that an almighty hole in the centre of his midfield has appeared, with no obvious fit choice available to fill it.
If the trio of McGeady, McNair and Wilson do indeed miss tomorrow’s game, the former Wales boss will find himself without THIRTEEN senior players - a truly staggering amount, particularly for a club which finds it in the situation that we do currently.
Add to that the fact that Josh Maja is clearly not yet fully fit, and the full-back pair of Brendan Galloway and Billy Jones have barely kicked a ball in months, and it’s easy to see why deep down Coleman might rather we weren’t playing tomorrow and instead having a weekend off.
Irregardless, Coleman has to try and pick a balanced team that is capable of taking to the pitch tomorrow and competing.
Sunderland’s massively inexperienced front line is a cause for concern, and in the event of Wilson passing his fitness test it could be a case that we are forced to move him into midfield, either putting him alongside the pairing of George Honeyman and Elliot Embleton, or in a two with Embleton and Honeyman out on the flank.
Quite who steps into the defence is a mystery - Brendan Galloway and Billy Jones will be itching for starts, and it’s entirely possible that one or both could make up part of our central three should Wilson indeed miss out or make up part of the midfield.
U23s captain Tom Beadling has made the bench in recent weeks, and could also be a shoe-in for a start should Coleman opt to give the skillful defender an opportunity to make his first team debut in such a massive game.
Whilst the manager suggested otherwise in his press conference yesterday, I suspect that deep down he might be tempted to use this as a chance to rest some of the wearier members of his squad with one eye firmly on next weekend’s trip to Cardiff City, a game which is of far superior importance as we strive towards moving ourselves off the bottom of the Championship table.
This could mean that the likes of John O’Shea and James Vaughan drop to the bench alongside Robbin Ruiter, who Coleman has already confirmed will be rested in place of second-choice stopper Jason Steele.
I genuinely have no idea what Coleman will do - but here’s a completely random stab at guessing it anyways.
I do think that McGeady and Wilson will pull through, with the latter moving into midfield alongside George Honeyman. Coleman, since he arrived, has preferred to have someone with experience shielding his defence and I believe that is why Wilson will start in that position ahead of Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton, who may be left disappointed and on the bench.
Who do you think will play? Let us know either in the comments, over on Twitter or on our Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you.