STEVEN Fletcher’s fitness will be assessed again today, but Sunderland’s top scorer remains a major doubt to face Reading.
Fletcher missed Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea with the ankle injury he sustained at Norwich City nine days ago, and although the Scotland international is making progress, Martin O’Neill is unlikely to risk the striker in tonight’s crunch clash.
The 25-year-old took part in some light training yesterday, away from the rest of the Sunderland squad, and he will do likewise again today.
But O’Neill admits he is not confident about Fletcher’s chances of facing second-bottom Reading, with Connor Wickham set to continue at the peak of Sunderland’s attack.
O’Neill told the Gazette: “Fletcher’s coming on a bit and he’s less sore than he was.
“But I wouldn’t be sure about tonight.
“He did a little bit of training yesterday with the physios and there’ll be a little bit again today.
“Obviously if Fletcher was fit, he’d give us a boost.
“But if it was going to cause irreparable damage, then it’s not something you’d want to do.”
O’Neill’s main selection dilemma tonight will be whether to gamble on playing on-loan Spurs left-back Danny Rose in central midfield.
The Sunderland manager has been contemplating using Rose in that role for several weeks, and moved the 22-year-old into the middle of the park for the final 20 minutes against Chelsea, with Jack Colback taking his spot at left-back.
O’Neill was coy about Rose yesterday, but admits that the England Under-21 international is capable of playing in several positions.
“I think Danny Rose is an all-round player,” said O’Neill.
“He says himself that his confidence here is greater now than when he started with us.
“He feels as if he is capable of doing more for the team, which I always thought he was.
“I thought he sometimes kept that light under a bushel, now he’s really progressing and it’s great to see.
“He knows the crowd are very much with him, and I believe in time he is capable of playing in a number of positions.”
Meanwhile, Reading chairman John Madejski has praised the job under-fire manager Brian McDermott is doing and says speculation his job is under threat is “totally absurd”.
The Royals boss’ future has come under increasing scrutiny of late after four successive defeats, but Madejski has been irked by such speculation about the future of the man that last season led the Berkshire club to the Championship crown.
“It is totally absurd that the manager will not be with us this time next week,” he said.
“In my humble opinion it’s not going to happen. We have to remember the amazing achievement, on a limited budget, to get us into the Premier League.”
Any decision on McDermott’s future would be made by owner Anton Zingarevich rather than Madejski, although the chairman does not expect there to be change anytime soon.
“It is Anton’s decision as he owns the club, but he has a great affection and loyalty to Brian, and I don’t think anyone could consider Brian’s position because he has done an amazing job for Reading,” Madejski said.