THE list of problems facing Sunderland is growing by the week. It would not be so bad were they not almost entirely self-created.
A make-do-and-mend approach has got them into this fine mess, but it might also be the only way out.
On Sunday the Black Cats go into their final home game of the campaign – the last match were they should have a reasonable expectation of victory – without their three top goalscorers.
The only centre-forward available is Danny Graham, who has scored as many Premier League goals for Sunderland as you have.
A week later, in the final match of the season they will be missing again, along with Danny Rose, comfortably Sunderland’s best outfielder this season.
In almost every case, they have brought it upon themselves.
Steven Fletcher’s absence is the only real exception.
It would be hard to argue the 11-goal Scot’s ankle injury was down to anything other than bad luck, although asking anyone to carry such a heavy burden as a totally isolated lone centre-forward for such a long time is bound to put heavy stress on their body.
What is Sunderland’s fault is the lack of cover.
When the Black Cats sold Darren Bent to Aston Villa in January 2011, they badly needed a replacement – but chose not to sign one.
Bodies have come in but in 2011 they were unproven (Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won) and borrowed (Nicklas Bendtner).
Fletcher apart, the 2012 additions were players even Martin O’Neill did not rate and quickly moved on, along with Fraizer Campbell.
Leave yourself so short and Sod’s Law dictates things will only get worse.
Stéphane Sessègnon was suspended, Connor Wickham injured.
Now Paolo Di Canio has a choice. He can either throw 18-year-old Mikael Mandron into the deep end after four dead-rubber minutes of Premier League football or play Adam Johnson out of position in the hole, as he did at home to Stoke City. It is not much of a choice, particularly considering going with Johnson more than likely means persisting with the woeful James McClean.
Perhaps the brave decision would be to go with Mandron, but it would be very brave and leave the Wearsiders without a striker on the bench.
It would not be so bad if you could rely on goals from elsewhere.
Craig Gardner’s season-ending suspension for another needless red card not only deprives them of one of the few non-strikers to chip in with goals this term, it exacerbates another lingering problem.
Sunderland only have one right-back, and neither of this season’s managers have shown any faith in Phil Bardsley, who never recovered from missing pre-season.
Gardner has deputised for Bardsley for much of the season while his team struggles without a midfielder to run beyond the strikers.
Since starting 2010-11 season with a glut of them, the Black Cats have neglected to buy a right-back.
It is even worse at left-back. They have not owned a specialist there since releasing George McCartney last summer.
Rose was signed on loan in August, but cannot play against parent club Tottenham Hotspur on the final day.
Jack Colback has long been a capable left-back and under Di Canio has shown a surprising skill on the opposite side of the field.
For the other full-back at White Hart Lane, it could be a choice between robbing the midfield for Sebastian Larsson, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best from Ahmed Elmohamady, back from his loan at Hull City, or handing a youngster his Premier League debut in one of the most important games in his club’s history.
Since New Year’s Day 2011 Sunderland have received more than £90m in TV money and around half as much again in transfer fees. To be going into two such crucial games so desperately short of players is an absolute disgrace.