To paraphrase the late, great Murray Walker, Sunderland really do have all the luck with injuries...and it’s all bad.
Yes, we gained a creditable draw at Craven Cottage after a cracking and confidence-boosting early goal from Jack Clarke, but it came at a heavy price.
After Ross Stewart suffered what Tony Mowbray suggested was an achilles injury against Fulham on Saturday, perhaps it’s time to start getting radical as we attempt to break the curse. After all, how can any football club be continually shadowed by such ill fortune with strains, breaks and tears?
At various stages this season, we’ve been robbed of Dan Ballard, Corry Evans, Lynden Gooch, Dennis Cirkin and Aji Alese, not to mention the disheartening sight of Elliot Embleton suffering a broken leg at Hull. Now we’re facing up the reality of losing our figurehead for the second time.
The talismanic Scot, who missed three months of the campaign with a calf injury suffered at the Riverside Stadium, looked anguished as he was carried off. That’s never a good sign, and especially for a physically dominant player whose work rate is always exceptional.
If he’s out for the medium to long-term, it’s another blow to a season that’s delivered so much promise but also plenty of frustration.
Shorn of strikers for the majority of the autumn period, we tried various solutions to compensate, few of which brought any major success, and our playoff hopes are now very much in the balance.
Stewart’s loss leaves us in a dilemma with three days of the transfer window left, and nerves are bound to be on edge as the deadline approaches, Sky Sports apply their usual hype, and the ‘ITK’ social media accounts go into overdrive.
After a week of exciting additions in the shape of Pierre Ekwah, Isaac Lihadji and Joe Gelhardt, we’ll be paying attention to every whisper and rumour, no matter how ridiculous or left-field.
Gelhardt’s arrival on Friday is a saving grace and he’ll certainly provide a threat up top, but he can’t be expected to carry the burden alone and there’ll be an even greater sense of urgency as we seek to boost our attacking options and keep our top six hopes alive.
With that in mind, will a return to Wearside for Ellis Simms finally materialise?
Personally, I’d love to see him back in the red and white stripes, but the current state of affairs on one side of Stanley Park complicates the picture.
With Sean Dyche set for the Everton job and likely to assess his squad before making any decisions, that deal could be another last-gasp affair. Although Simms would slot straight back into our squad with ease, perhaps the change of manager at Goodison Park might represent the rebirth of his own prospects on Merseyside.
Regarding the question of ‘Should Stewart have been playing?’, this was a classic risk versus reward situation.
Yes, Mowbray might be criticised for opting to field a full-strength team for a match that was seen as a free hit, but you simply can’t legislate for what happened. Instead, it’s simply another case of our wretched luck with injuries coming back to bite us, and at the worst possible time.
Had he rested Stewart, would that have been showing due respect to the tie and to the 5,000 fans who’d travelled to West London? It wasn’t an easy situation for the head coach, but he hasn’t ducked accountability during his time at the club, and that won’t change.
For Kristjaan Speakman and the recruitment team, this latest twist will put them under scrutiny once again, and a familiar degree of scepticism will doubtless resurface in some quarters as the window heads towards its conclusion.
Simms aside, hopefully there are deals being worked on in the background, but it’s bound to be a challenging couple of days for those calling the shots. Panic signings in the Jermain Defoe mould won’t be on their agenda (lessons thankfully learned) but it’s certainly going to represent a stress test for their strategy.
As ever, we’ll simply have to push on, work hard to add reinforcements, and hope that the medical staff can get Stewart on the road to recovery as quickly as possible. Resilience is a quality that’s built into the club nowadays, and it’s sure to be challenged during the coming weeks.