PHIL Bardsley is set for a scan which could rule him out of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
The full-back has pulled out of Scotland’s friendly in Slovenia tomorrow with a calf injury.
Although Martin O’Neill has been at pains to play down Sunday’s trip to St James’ Park, Sunderland will not want to make it without one of their key performers.
Some reports described Bardsley’s injury as a “suspected tear.”
The Scottish FA explained he had withdrawn as a “precaution” after reporting complaining of “tightness” in the muscle. The latter sounds like a classic “international injury” of the sort which tends to occur in the build-up to a friendly and heals remarkably quickly after.
Bardsley was sent home having reported for duty after Saturday’s 4-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
He will be back at the Academy of Light for treatment today. If the problem is a tear, however, Bardsley can expect to be out for some time.
His absence in the Tyne-Wear derby would force a defensive reshuffle with no natural right-back in reserve.
Ahmed Elmohamady could play there, but the Egyptian has been used as no more than a late substitute since O’Neill took over as manager.
Besides, he will have the effects of a flight from his homeland to recover from first.
With Matthew Kilgallon fit again, John O’Shea could move to right-back if O’Neill is prepared to break up a central defensive partnership which has been in place for the previous six, largely successful, matches.
Another option would be for Craig Gardner to move from midfield to the emergency right-back position which he filled in the New Year.
Steve Bruce went into his derbies downplaying the occasion and O’Neill – a veteran of “Old Firm” clashes as Celtic manager – is taking a similar approach.
The Ulsterman said: “Every game we play is a big game and that is the way I have thought about it, starting from Blackburn Rovers, a big game (his first in charge).”
Sunderland go into the game on the back of a demoralising defeat – their biggest this season.
O’Neill will be looking to find reasons for an uncharacteristically flat performance and will not spare himself from scrutiny. He admitted: “We were well beaten in the game.
“You can always be beaten in a match – you take that for granted.
“But we did not compete, particularly in the first half. That was unusual.
“We played exceptionally well the previous week against Arsenal – we had to – and we went there thinking we could win the game.
“West Bromwich Albion played better than us on the day.
“I have to look after my own team and I am naturally disappointed.”
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood has pulled out of the Republic of Ireland’s friendly at home to Czech Republic, where club-mate James McClean is expected to make his international debut less than three months after playing Premier League football for the first time.
Westwood has a wrist injury, leaving 11 Sunderland players involved in tomorrow’s matches.
Meanwhile, Sunderland’s reserve game with Manchester United – scheduled for this week – has been rearranged.
The two will now meet in the Premier Reserve League at Altrincham on May 1, with a 7pm kick-off.