SUNDERLAND have called rookie striker Mikael Mandron into first-team training as they brace themselves for life without Steven Fletcher.
The Black Cats insisted yesterday that Fletcher’s injury is still being assessed but it appears highly unlikely that the striker – who returned to Wearside over the weekend for further scans – will play in April after sustaining ligament damage.
The Black Cats now only have two recognised senior strikers in Danny Graham and recalled forward Connor Wickham, so have promoted Mandron into the first-team pool for the week.
The 18-year-old is yet to play any senior football and while he is considered one of the most promising Academy undergraduates in the squad it would be a major step up to throw him into the Premier League mix.
Whether the teenager, who has been offered a new professional contract by the impressed Black Cats, makes it into Saturday’s match-day squad is another thing but there is a possibility he will come into the reckoning with numbers so light.
Sunderland’s only other option to boost the number of recognised strikers in the match-day squad is youngster Ryan Noble, but he has been told there is no new contract on the table and he must find a new club. With that in mind, it looks as if there is very little chance of him playing in red and white again.
Mandron, however, was training with the first-team yesterday morning as Martin O’Neill looks at ways of adapting his squad to cope with the demands of the run-in.
Fletcher injured ankle ligaments in Friday’s international between Scotland and Wales and had to be stretchered off, much to the obvious dismay of his club – who can ill afford to lose anyone with his goal-scoring record.
The club released a very short statement on their website yesterday afternoon which confirmed the player was back in England but put no timescale on his likely recovery.
It read: “Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher has returned to Wearside after picking up an injury with Scotland.
“The striker landed awkwardly during the game with Wales at Hampden Park and was stretchered off after just two minutes.
“Fletcher is currently being assessed by the club’s medical team and is awaiting scan results to find out the extent of his injury.”
There is better news for the Black Cats with Stéphane Sessègnon, however, who is set to shake off a groin injury to play in this weekend’s crucial clash with Manchester United.
The lack of striking options merely emphasises the importance attached to Sunderland’s summer recruitment drive, and there was a slight hint with the likely presence of chief scout Pop Robson at tonight’s game between the Republic of Ireland Ireland and Austria.
The Sunderland talent spotter was due to take in Ireland’s under-21 match with Portugal too as he continues to run the rule over possible recruits.
His deployment in Ireland may also increase speculation that Sunderland are looking to add Wigan’s James McCarthy to their midfield mix – or Aiden McGeady of Spartak Moscow.
The wide man isn’t among the starters tonight but he is understood to be on O’Neill’s radar.
Black Cats’ winger James McClean (pictured below) retains his place in Ireland’s starting line-up alongside clubmate John O’Shea, who captains Giovanni Trapattoni’s side.
Conor Sammon has been handed the task of filling Robbie Keane’s boots, the Derby frontman partnering Shane Long in attack with Keane having been ruled out of the game with a calf strain after a scan.
Glenn Whelan returns from an ankle injury in place of Paul Green.