David Moyes stopped short of saying Sunderland need to wrap Jermain Defoe in cotton wool – but says it is right to give the star striker tonight off.
Defoe was omitted from this evening’s EFL Cup match at QPR because of a calf problem, leaving the Black Cats without their top scorer, along with Fabio Borini, who is sidelined for a couple of months.
Boss Moyes, also without midfield Wahbi Khazri, said it was crucial that Defoe is fit for Saturday’s crucial Premier League match with Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light.
“I don’t know if rest is the right word, but I will not play him,” said Moyes.
“He’s got a bit of a kick on his calf and, even if he was fit, I don’t know if I could take the risk because he is so important.
“With the League Cup, I’d love to get on a run like Gus (Poyet) did a couple of years ago, and get to the final.
“But I’ve also got to be mindful that we’ve got another Premier League game coming up in a few days.
“We’re playing three games in seven days here, so Jermain would be the one who, probably, out of them all, I think everybody would understand we need to look after.”
Victor Anichebe, who became Sunderland’s eighth summer signing, is not yet ready to feature, which means Moyes is likely to turn to a younger man to lead the line.
Duncan Watmore will be the favourite to start at Loftus Road after a lively substitute appearance at Tottenham in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat.
Khazri, who made a brief cameo off the bench at White Hart Lane, would have been a contender for a starting spot, but he misses the trip to the Sky Bet Championship club after being laid low by a bug,
Aside from a breather for Defoe, Moyes is unlikely to deviate far from the side which was in action in North London.
Tonight is a chance for midfielders Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff to build their match fitness – the skipper managed a full 90 minutes on his return from a double hernia operation, while the German lasted 79 before making way for Khazri.
Didier Ndong made an encouraging full debut against Spurs and he, too, would benefit from another outing in tonight’s third round tie.
Moyes has yet to decide whether to include Patrick van Aanholt in his 18-man squad after the 26-year-old travelled to London.
The Dutch left-back has been given the all-clear after his late withdrawal before kick-off at White Hart Lane.
Keeper Mika is likely to start between the sticks, with Jordan Pickford moving down to the bench, though he will, like Defoe, resume against Alan Pardew’s Palace this weekend.
While attention will, naturally, gravitate towards Saturday’s Palace appointment, tonight’s match in West London is a vital one for the Black Cats.
And they come up against a QPR side who have lost their touch.
After winning their opening two Championship matches, in impressive fashion, they have won only one of their last six league fixtures and were hit for six by Newcastle last midweek at Loftus Road.
On paper, they look there for the taking and Moyes will hope his side can do just that, even if they are without Defoe.