STEVEN FLETCHER has been to see a specialist over fears that he could be ruled out of Sunderland’s survival challenge.
Fletcher has sustained an injury to the same ankle which required surgery at the end of last season and saw him miss the final two months of the campaign.
The Scot – ruled out of today’s trip to Stoke – visited a specialist in London yesterday to see if he needs to go under the knife again.
“We will see when he comes back how bad it is,” said Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat.
Regardless of Fletcher’s injury, Advocaat has been considering whether to alter his line-up for the trip to the Potteries after Sunderland’s collapse against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago.
Sunderland worked on a new system in a behind-closed-doors friendly with SPL outfit Hamilton last week after their scheduled trip to Arsenal was postponed because of the Gunners’ FA Cup commitments.
And Advocaat says it was beneficial to see his ideas in a game-situation, as he searches for the formula which can see Sunderland gain the points needed to secure their Premier League status.
“It was a difficult game against Hamilton because they were fighting like crazy,” he said.
“It was very positive for us with the way they played. It was not really a friendly game because we had to give everything. I was happy.
“If you don’t do what you have to do in a game – even against Hamilton – then the opposition will beat you.
“They had to work very hard to get the result and that was quite positive.”
However, Advocaat knows that his tactical prowess is redundant if Sunderland reproduce the same mistakes from the dismal 4-1 defeat against Palace.
The ex-Holland manager has spoken with his players about their slapstick second half display a fortnight ago and the importance of winning their individual battles, rather than wilting under the mental strain.
“You can’t make those kind of mistakes at this level,” he added.
“We have to improve that.
“If you play sharper man-to-man, then the other player has to fight to get the ball.
“But it was too easy for Crsytal Palace. They were quicker in the head.”