SUNDERLAND have been spared a difficult decision in January after it was revealed Connor Wickham’s knee injury is not as bad as at first feared, but it still leaves them a problem for the visit of Fulham next week.
Wickham damaged knee ligaments after twisting badly under a challenge from Rio Ferdinand in the first 90 seconds of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, and had to be stretchered off.
In the immediate aftermath of the game, Black Cats boss Steve Bruce feared the worst, saying he thought it might rank alongside long-term knee injuries suffered by team-mates David Meyler (twice), Fraizer Campbell (twice), Titus Bramble, Michael Turner and Craig Gordon.
It now seems his diagnosis was unnecessarily pessimistic. The 18-year-old is expected to be out for “weeks rather than months” after scans taken on Monday were reviewed.
So while it will cause Bruce a major headache for the Premier League visit of Fulham a week today, it is one less factor to consider when he assesses his squad ahead of the next transfer window.
Ji Dong-won could be handed his first start for Sunderland against the Cottagers, but his preparation for the Saturday 3pm kick-off will be far from ideal. The striker started but was substituted at half-time South Korea’s 2-0 win over the United Arab Emirates in yesterday’s 2014 World Cup qualifier in Dubai.
The Taegeuk Warriors play Lebanon in Beirut on Tuesday before Ji makes the arduous journey back to the North East.
With Wickham injured and Asamoah Gyan on loan in the UAE, Ji is one of only two specialist centre-forwards available to Bruce next week. The other is Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Arsenal.
Stéphane Sessègnon could move back from the left-wing berth from which he has scored twice in three games, but Sunderland are without wideman Sebastian Larsson for the game. The Swede is suspended after picking up his fifth caution of the season at Old Trafford.
The Black Cats manager does not know his January budget, but his lack of options at centre-forward is something he will probably look to address if he has sufficient funds.
The Black Cats were left short by Gyan’s departure for little-known Al-Ain on a season-long loan in September. As the European transfer window was closed by then, the New Year presents Bruce’s first opportunity to sign a replacement.
Campbell could be back in full training by then, but after two cruciate knee ligament injuries in 18 months, the Wearsiders would be well advised not to rely too heavily on him.
Although he is due back for next season, it would be a major surprise if club record signing Gyan were to play for Bruce again.
His unhappiness with the Ghanaian’s attitude on and off the field was the cause of his departure.
Quite how willing chairman Ellis Short will be to sanction more additions after Bruce signed nine senior players in the summer remains to be seen.
Although many came on small or non-existent transfer fees, the team has made a poor start to the season.
The coffers have, though, been swelled by Gyan’s loan fee, thought to be capable of rising to a world record £6m. Gyan could be ruled out of Ghana’s friendly with Gabon on Tuesday after being caught in red tape.
He and Fulham defender John Pantsil were due to meet up with the Black Stars in Paris on Thursday, where they are training after the cancellation of a friendly with Sierra Leone planned for today.
Their failure to arrive was blamed on the “intransigence” of the French Embassy, which closed for the week on Thursday due to a public holiday. Gyan was in London to promote Puma’s African Cup of Nations strips.
Meanwhile, Sunderland have been drawn at home to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Youth Cup on December 17.