Premier League Sunderland will have to play for the remainder of the season without key pair Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole.
Both of the players would be considered as big players for the Black Cats, but injury has now curtailed their seasons.
Club captain Lee Cattermole has made just 14 appearances this season due to a knee injury which has troubled him all season. The midfielder has now undergone surgery on his troublesome knee problem.
His combative nature and battling qualities have been missing at times for the Black Cats this season. Although he can go over the top at times with his approach to the game, he can also be an inspiration to his team and is the sort of player you want in a relegation battle.
Steven Fletcher’s absence could prove even more crucial as the Scottish international is the Black Cats top scorer this season with 11 this season in the top flight. He seems the only player in a Sunderland shirt capable of finding the back of the net at the moment.
Fletcher absence could be the worse news Sunderland fans have had in a long time. He may not have been ultra-prolific, but the 26 year-old has scored vital goals this season. Even with Fletcher in their team the Black Cats didn’t look like a massive goal threat, without him in the team it’s hard to see where their attacking threat will come from.
Fletcher could prove to be a slightly unlucky omen for the Black Cats, as he has already been relegated from the Premier League with Wolves and Burnley. The Scottish international will be hoping he avoids a hat-trick of relegations.
By the end of the weekend Sunderland could be just one point clear of the relegation zone. Martin O’Neill’s side face an early kick-off with league leaders Manchester United on Saturday and I’m sure not many Mackems are looking forward to that encounter.
The fixture list doesn’t really get any kinder after that as they visit Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and arch-rivals Newcastle for the Tyne-Wear derby. I dread to think where Martin O’Neill’s side will be after those games.
I can’t see them getting anything from the Chelsea game and I think Newcastle will be determined not to let the Black Cats get the better of them in the derby. They do have to face relegation rivals Aston Villa and Southampton though and also host midtable Stoke.
Those games will be must win for the north east side, as the other teams they face are top six Everton and Tottenham. To be honest it’s a bit of a nightmare set of games for the Black Cats.
Martin O’Neill came into Sunderland last season and moved the club away from the relegation zone. This season his team are getting sucked right back towards the danger zone.
In truth Sunderland have struggled for most of the season, but wins here and there have kept them away from danger. It’s difficult to see where their next win will come from and I think the confidence in the boss is starting to dwindle.
Sunderland need their other attacking players to step-up their game. The likes of Adam Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon and Danny Graham all have the ability to score and create goals.
Graham has not found the net for the Black Cats in six appearances since his January move from Swansea. He was Swansea’s top goal scorer last season, but was ousted from the team by the arrival of Spanish sensation Michu.
He was expected to return to goalscoring form with regular first team football at the Stadium of Light. It hasn’t happened for the former-Middlesbrough striker just yet, but it is now vital for Graham to find some form.
Johnson and Sessegnon are the epitome of talented attacking players that can’t find consistent enough form. Both players have the ability to win games virtually on their own, but they don’t perform consistently enough.
Sunderland now needs Johnson, Sessegnon and Graham to start producing their best form if they are to avoid getting dragged into the relegation zone.
Sunderland fans will now be hoping that there are three teams worse than themselves in the top flight by the end of the season. Sunderland could have a major fight on their hands to survive. This season could be a worst one to be relegated with television revenue at a record high next season for Premier League games.
The Black Cats are in very real danger of missing out on that television windfall and spending next season in the second tier.
Could Sunderland be dragged into the relegation zone?