MARTIN O’Neill admits Phil Bardsley is struggling to be fit for this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby.
The Sunderland full-back sustained a calf problem in last Saturday’s defeat at West Brom, which ruled him out of Scotland’s friendly in Slovenia last night.
Bardsley is undergoing further tests and treatment on the injury, but the 26-year-old, one of just four survivors from the starting XI in last season’s defeat on Tyneside, is a major doubt for Sunday’s trip to St James’s Park.
If Bardsley is ruled out, O’Neill will have to decide between moving Craig Gardner into defence or using John O’Shea at right-back and introducing either Sotirios Kyrgiakos or Matt Kilgallon at centre-half.
Black Cats boss O’Neill told the Gazette: “Phil felt really tight in his calf after the game.
“He informed the Scottish FA, but obviously they wanted him to travel up, so he did that and they realised there was something wrong with him after all.
“At this minute, if the game was today, he’d be really struggling which would be a big blow.”
Bardsley is not the only Sunderland player facing an uphill battle to face the Magpies, with back-up keeper Keiren Westwood another likely absentee after pulling out of the Ireland squad for last night’s friendly with the Czech Republic.
Westwood is struggling with a wrist injury, meaning Craig Gordon, on the bench for Scotland last night, is likely to be involved in Sunderland’s matchday squad for the first time since April after being persistently hampered by a knee problem.
O’Neill said: “Keiren pulled out of the Ireland squad. He went to get a scan on Tuesday, and he got some sort of anti-inflammatory injection yesterday.
“But it might rule him out for Sunday’s game.
“If that’s the case, we’re hoping Craig will come in.
“I think he’s feeling half-decent with the couple of days he’s been with Scotland, so it might be a case of having to bring him into the fold.
“We’ll see how he is after last night, and that applies to everyone whose been away.”
The one plus point for O’Neill is the return of David Vaughan, who played 70 minutes for Wales in the Gary Speed Memorial Match last night.
“David only did the one day’s training with us last Friday before the West Brom game so knowing this fixture was coming up, it was a matter of giving him a bit of time,” added O’Neill.