SUNDERLAND have recalled David Meyler from his loan at Hull City, but the midfielder will not be available for today’s crucial trip to Southampton.
The 28-year-old made the eighth and final appearance of his loan spell with the Tigers at Derby County last night before being recalled early.
With Steven Fletcher and Danny Rose expected to return at St Mary’s today, the Black Cats are hardly over-burned with injuries.
But today’s is the first of four games between now and FA Cup third round day, on January 5.
The most important and lengthy lay-off is to Lee Cattermole, a combative midfielder in the Meyler mould. Jack Colback is
another, but the fact Sunderland’s other absentees are Phil Bardsley and Wes Brown could cause him and Craig Gardner to be pressed into service at the back.
Last week, Hull manager Steve Bruce tried to head off the threat of Meyler going back, suggesting that the Republic of Ireland international would be better served playing more football.
Meyler has started twice for Sunderland in the last two seasons, and only six times in all since the first of two cruciate knee ligament injuries, in May 2010.
“At least if he gets on the field of play with us, which I imagine he will, his fitness levels won’t worry me a much as it might have done before,” manager Martin O’Neill said of Meyler’s loan spell, which started early November.
The change of scenery should have done Meyler’s confidence some good too, with glowing reports about some of his performances in the Champion-ship, and scoring the only senior goals of his career.
The problems Sunderland have been caused by so few injuries has highlighted the need for squad strengthening in January.
O’Neill was being typically cagey about it yesterday, refusing to say even if he had a budget for the transfer window, never mind what it was.
The Black Cats have at least been able to train indoors this week, thanks to the timely opening of facilities in the pipeline ever since the Academy of Light was first planned.
Defeat could see Sunderland drop into the relegation zone, although that would require a Wigan Athletic victory at home to Arsenal.
Either way it will see the Wearsiders move down the table as Southampton are the only team between them and the bottom three.
O’Neill is not unduly concerned that players will be put off joining by the team’s position in the Premier League.
“That’s always a possibility,” he conceded. “If we were in contention with one of the top four or five clubs then I’m quite sure it’d be harder to attract (transfer targets).
“But the club itself has enough tradition to attract players. The club’s position for a number of weeks or a number of months is not going to change that.”
Supporters will be able to pay on the day for Wednesday’s match against reigning champions Manchester City.
The ticket office and collection points will open at 10am on Boxing Day, and are expected to be busy. Turnstiles 13 and 14 will be open from 1.30pm for cash sales on the day.
The sides last met at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day, a match Sunderland won 1-0.