Forget the old maxim of ‘it never rains but it pours’, because when it comes to Sunderland’s ongoing and scarcely believable injury crisis, we’re currently caught in an Amazonian monsoon, the umbrella is leaking badly, and there’s absolutely no sign of the deluge ending.
When Danny Batth limped off with mere minutes left to play during Tuesday night’s game against Huddersfield, every fan would’ve held their breath and hoped for a positive update, such has been the central defender’s importance to our playoff push.
However, it wasn’t to be, as on Friday afternoon, the news broke that Batth’s injury will keep him out of the remaining three games, robbing us of one of our leaders and giving Tony Mowbray yet another dilemma as we prepare for the trip to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
Mowbray, a boss of substantial experience and admirable resilience, would’ve doubtless overseen plenty of injury hit-campaigns during his long career in the dugout, but even he must be scratching his head at how and why we’ve fallen victim to so many knocks, strains and breaks.
Suffice it to say, this is just the latest setback of a campaign during which we’ve lost a multitude of key players and have therefore been forced to adapt and do whatever was needed in order to maintain some forward momentum.
From the injuries suffered by Dan Ballard, Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart to Elliot Embleton’s broken leg, Corry Evans being ruled out for the remainder of the season, Dennis Cirkin’s concussion and Aji Alese’s struggles, it’s been a season played out against the backdrop of one of the worst injury crises any of us can remember.
Indeed, it’s to the immense credit of the players and coaches that we’ve arrived at this stage with hopes of the playoffs still alive, so challenging has it been to field a first choice eleven at times.
I’ve got no doubt that Kristjaan Speakman will be blamed in some quarters for a lack of planning (nothing new there) but could anyone really have foreseen the kind of turbulence that we’d encounter?
We know this league is tough and the schedule is relentless, so perhaps it's simply a case of putting it down to wretchedly bad fortune. Unless we opted to go down the Chelsea route of expanding the squad to a ridiculous level, it’s difficult to envision how else we could’ve gone about it.
There’s no doubt that Batth’s absence is another blow, not least because he’s been one of our players of the season, a commanding and highly influential presence in the team, whose attitude, work rate and toughness have set an example for his teammates to follow.
Since his arrival from the Potteries, he’s become an absolutely key figure under both Alex Neil and Tony Mowbray, and he embodies the kind of no-nonsense attitude that all good Sunderland central defenders should possess. In terms of overall value, he’s easily one of our best signings in recent years.
Looking ahead to the remaining games, this latest episode will doubtless give Joe Anderson some game time (albeit perhaps not in the situation he envisaged himself being pitched into) and it’ll also be an immense challenge for the likes of Cirkin and Trai Hume: young, talented players who’ll need to adapt to the loss of their defensive kingpin.
Perhaps the fact that Batth has been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign could be eased by the fact that he’s almost certain to feature strongly when it comes to choosing Sunderland’s ‘player of the season’, but that’s a discussion for another day.
For now, we need to steel ourselves for the games that lie ahead and hope that the remaining players, particularly in defence, can summon a little bit more of their trademark resilience and keep the season on course for a positive ending.