Continuing with a makeshift centre-back
With Bailey Wright back he gets a place in the side purely because there’s nobody else. He’s the only natural defender we have that’s totally fit but we could play someone as a part-time defender as we’ve done in recent weeks.
Luke O’Nien has been Mr Versatile in recent weeks - well, years in fact. He’s always willing to play wherever he’s needed, and I’m not sure anybody is sure what his best position is any longer.
O’Nien may lack the natural defender's ability to sense danger and technical ability at dealing with strikers, but his energy and commitment to the cause cannot be questioned. He’s one of the only Sunderland players to have the stamina to keep fighting right to the 90th minute and has arguably played his best football there.
Another option might be to play Max Power there. Power has his critics among our fanbase and wouldn’t necessarily excel there but with options limited - it’s worth considering.
He’s more used to playing right-back but I believe a commanding centre-back is the most natural choice for captain. Power isn’t known for his speed or mobility so a sitting central defensive position might be ideal. If Power can find his voice and use some of his experience, he might just be able to fill the gap until the end of the season.
Tom Flanagan returning ahead of schedule
Flanagan has of course been injured with a calf injury sustained in our Wembley win against Tranmere Rovers in the ‘Pizza Cup.’
It’s believed that he’s close to a return and the timing would be brilliant if he can fill in the gaping hole left by Sanderson.
Flanagan hasn’t always been in top form over the past three seasons in our defence, and has had spells in and out of the team, but would offer a safe pair of hands compared to other options. His experience at international level may come in vital in the final run-in and potential play-off matches.
While this would be the only option that brings an experienced defender into the fold - it’s the riskiest option. If we bring him back too early when the player isn’t completely fit, it may finish his season and then we are in an even worse position. The player will have to undergo and pass a detailed fitness test before any decision is made on his match fitness.
A youngster with a point to prove
We’ve got a couple of youngsters that have been on the fringes of the first team, and one has played several games already. While personally, I wouldn’t be rushing to play an untested youngster in the most important games of the season, they may be fearless enough to give a competent performance.
Ollie Younger has already appeared in the first team a couple of times this season.
He has one appearance in the ‘Pizza Cup’ in the 2-1 defeat to Fleetwood and also started his first league game - a 2-0 win against Rochdale in March. He may be very raw, but there’s a feeling of ‘it has to come at some point’ and you won’t know if a player is ready until they play regularly.
Another option is Brandon Taylor. The centre-half has appeared in several ‘Pizza Cup’ matches and though less experienced than Younger may be able to feature if called upon.
There are options available to Lee Johnson and while this may prove to be fatal to our chances, Sanderson will be a huge miss in the final crucial matches.