SUNDERLAND could be without an entire back four for today’s trip to Burnley, raising the prospect of their first-choice backline going into a difficult opening-day fixture at Anfield under-cooked.
John O’Shea, Michael Turner, Titus Bramble and Phil Bardsley have every chance of being Steve Bruce’s preferred defence in the coming season, but all four will go into the new campaign with less football than their manager would want.
If the trip to Turf Moor had been a Premier League match, all but O’Shea could perhaps have played. Since it is not, none are likely to be involved.
Bruce was criticised last season for rushing injured players back too soon, after a spate of recurring problems.
It is not a trap he will fall into during the friendly programme, even though he is promising a competitive side to face the Clarets.
He said: “We will be naming a strong team again and will not be taking anything for granted.
“I was pleased by what I saw at Kilmarnock in midweek, and hopefully we can produce more of the same this weekend.
“Michael and Titus have returned to training but are a bit sore, so I don’t see them being involved against Burnley. Phil strained an adductor muscle but it is not serious.”
Bardsley was withdrawn after 34 minutes of the 2-1 win over Kilmarnock as a precaution, and there seems little danger of him not being fit and ready on August 13 when Sunderland face Liverpool.
The inactivity of the others is a concern, however.
Turner and Bramble had injury-hit 2010-11 campaigns.
Bramble made the last of 23 starts in March, Turner played fewer times – 16 – but at least made it to April.
Bruce was therefore hoping both would play a full part in pre-season.
Bramble was suspended for the trip to Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park, legacy of a harsh red card at Borussia Mönchengladbach, but would have missed out anyway with an unspecified “knock”, as Turner did.
Since moving from Manchester United, O’Shea has played just 34 minutes for Sunderland. He was withdrawn early in his debut at Arminia Bielefeld with a hamstring problem.
The Irishman seems unlikely to play in Ritchie Humphreys’ testimonial at Hartlepool United on Tuesday, meaning the best he can hope for is to travel to Anfield with one full pre-season match under his belt.
Bruce added: “It is a case of erring on the side of caution.
“John should be able to play in our last pre-season game, against Hibs a week today, and if he comes through that he will come into contention for the Liverpool game.
“Every player is different, but the knock is not a serious one and he is one of those players who can come in and pick things up very quickly. I am sure he will be all right for the Liverpool game.”
Fellow summer signing Wes Brown could play at right-back or centre-back, but is playing catch-up with his pre-season.
The injury-prone Mancunian suffered a hip problem shortly after joining, delaying his debut until Tuesday, when he played 58 minutes.
Burnley’s problem has been the loss of experienced players in the transfer market.
Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears this week became the latest high-profile departures, reuniting with former manager Owen Coyle at Bolton Wanderers.
They join Clarke Carlisle, Graham Alexander and Chris Iwelumo.
Meanwhile, Queens Park Rangers have had a bid accepted for one-time Sunderland target Dudley “DJ” Campbell, who will now discuss personal terms.
The Wearsiders were monitoring the 29-year-old Blackpool striker, who Bruce signed for Birmingham City, at the end of last season. They opted instead for Connor Whickam and Ji Dong-Won.