Victor Anichebe’s knee injury is a bitter blow for David Moyes who is left plotting how to get the best out of his Sunderland team without his physical presence up front.
The 28-year-old was a key factor in the spell of four wins out of seven Premier League games in November and December, a run which has kept Sunderland within touching distance of safety.
Sunderland struggle to play through the middle, with the side lacking creative midfielders capable of producing defence-splitting passes.
That’s why Anichebe – who has been ruled out for 10 weeks with knee ligament damage – was so important as he allowed the Black Cats to play a more direct style.
Sunderland could move the ball upfield quickly knowing the striker was capable of holding up play and bringing others into the attack.
Moyes said: “I said at the start of the season that we needed a big man to go with Jermain Defoe – we didn’t get anyone in the transfer window.
“We got Victor the day after and lucky we did, but the similarities in recent games [with start of season], at the start I couldn’t see how we were going to get up the pitch, we had a difficulty getting from our goal to high up the pitch unless we could play really good football.
“Victor gave us an opportunity to get the ball up, for him to hold up, and I think he became a fans favourite because they could see how important he was –it helped us get up and play better.”
Sunderland are bottom of the Premier League, three points adrift of fourth-bottom Swansea City, ahead of Tuesday night’s home clash with Tottenham.
Moyes’ options to shuffle his team have been hindered by the recent spate of injuries, with the side suffering a poor run of form, picking up just a single point so far in 2017. “We had that in the opening 10 games of the season, we did the same [play long balls],” added Moyes.
“That tells you we struggle to play through the middle, we’re needing midfield players who can take the ball and play good passes.
“That’s been missing.
“I thought [five at the back v Burnley] looked OK – we’ve tinkered with it a bit in games. We hadn’t played well against Burnley in recent games, I wanted to try something different. I wouldn’t say it caused them a bigger problem, but I didn’t think we were as bad defensively, even though we made a couple of bad mistakes.
“One of them [extra centre-half] can get out and give you a little bit more, but then what needs to happen, it needs to be played in the middle of the pitch, then it needs to be developed into the forward players, and we’re lacking that player in the middle.
“Jack [Rodwell] can probably do that a bit better than most.”