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Northern Ireland v Finland - UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying - Group H - Windsor Park

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How could Sunderland’s backline set up for Burnley if Dan Ballard is unavailable?

The Northern Ireland international suffered an injury against Finland on Sunday, so how might our defence line up if he's unfit for Friday night?

Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says...

We’ve had dreadful luck with injuries this season but the one saving grace is that other lads have been able to step up.

Our team is filled with committed and adaptable players and if it wasn’t for our squad depth, some of these layoffs could’ve bitten us harder than they have.

Luke O’Nien, Dennis Cirkin and Lynden Gooch are all great options and they allow Tony Mowbray to tweak his formation should he wish, and we know that Danny Batth will be able to crack on no matter who he plays alongside.

He’s one of several candidates for ‘Player of the Season’ in my book, whilst Trai Hume has taken to the Championship very well so at least there’ll be some continuity.

I’m not sure if Niall Huggins is likely to be back but he’s another player for whom this might open the door, even if it’s on the bench.

Joe Anderson may also see this as a chance to step up, and although he doesn’t have much first team experience yet, a few minutes here and there could really set him up for next season.

It’s a relief to have these alternatives but in an ideal world Ballard will not be out long anyway.

He’s already missed a fair chunk of the campaign so for his sake alone I’d like to see him have a strong end to the season. Ballard has been class so far and hopefully there’ll be more to come from him.

Sunderland v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

This situation says two things to me, apart from the fact that we have to be one of the most injury-impacted teams in our league.

Firstly, it says that Luke O’Nien is going to be playing in our backline for a few more weeks yet, at least until we really know the score with Ballard and his knock.

O’Nien has been an immense influence in recent times and was arguably hard to drop without any more injuries. We’re lucky to have such a flexible and capable option as him.

Next, it tells me that we’re fortunate that Dennis Cirkin was photographed in training last week. If he can come back this Friday, we’ve got an option to either play O’Nien on the left and put Cirkin into the centre, or we can go the other way round.

We may even go to a back three with Danny Batth, O’Nien and Cirkin, with Trai Hume and maybe Jack Clarke as wing backs but either way, we’ve got two very capable lads in Cirkin and O’Nien and we’ll certainly need them.

It may be the case that Lynden Gooch features in some way to help us out of this situation, but personally I’d prefer Cirkin and O’Nien to cover the defensive duties between them and maybe use Gooch further up the field when needed.

Top sides have proven in the past that Gooch has mistakes in him when playing at the back, although he’s done well since coming back from the treatment room.

It’s important that we do well against Burnley as we’ve got fixtures to come against teams that we can take points off in Hull, Cardiff, Birmingham and Huddersfield. Let’s play well and retain some confidence before making a push for a top ten or better finish during April.

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