Lee Johnson weighs up selection dilemma with FIVE centre-backs unavailable for Lincoln clash

Lee Johnson is weighing up a major selection dilemma for Sunderland's Papa John's Trophy semi final tie this week, with Bailey Wright his only senior available centre-half.

Tuesday, 16th February 2021, 11:18 am

Jordan Willis was ruled out for the rest of the season last week after suffering a ruptured tendon in his knee.

Dion Sanderson came into the side for the 4-1 win over Doncaster Rovers and underlined his promise with an excellent performance.

The 21-year-old is cup-tied for Wednesday's game against Lincoln City, however, after featuring for Wolves U21s in the opening game of the tournament.

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Bailey Wright is the only senior centre-half available to play for Sunderland on Wednesday evening

With Tom Flanagan still sidelined due to a minor calf problem, Johnson has been jokingly telling top scorer Charlie Wyke to prepare for a role at the heart of defence.

"I've been calling Charlie Wyke JT all week because we've only got one fit and available centre-half in Bailey Wright," Johnson said.

"We've got to adjust and it might mean a slight tweak to philosophy but at the same time, it's a really good game against a really good Lincoln side.

"I have got the option to freshen it up a little bit but in certain areas of the pitch, it's going to be a pat on the back and 'go again, son'."

Brandon Taylor would be one option to replace Sanderson, having featured in a U23 game on Monday.

Conor McLaughlin could also move across into central defence, while Luke O'Nien played on the left of a back three earlier this season.

Oliver Younger would have been the main contender to step in ordinarily, but is a major doubt with injury.

Johnson said last week: “Oliver Younger could step up [to help replace Willis], I think.

“Luke O'Nien has done well when playing in a three, though I haven't seen him in a two. I have to decide whether to flex the system, which I didn't really have an intention of doing, or to continue down the path [we're on]. I do think you've got to put round pegs in round holes as much as possible. We haven't always been able to do that.

“I do trust Oliver Younger, he's a great kid. I obviously haven't seen him enough in games, but in terms of training performance and his personality, he's been really impressive.

“He's injured at the moment but it's just a little knock, he should be training next week.”

January signing Ross Stewart remains sidelined atfer a setback in his recovery from a hamstring problem, though scans have confirmed the club's initial assessment that he should be able to return within a week.

Sunderland's opponents on Wednesday will be without former Black Cat Liam Bridcutt, who is injured.

Lincoln boss Michael Appleton says Brighton loanee Max Sanders is in contention to replace him and make his debut after arriving on loan last month.

“It looks like it’s going to be four to six weeks," Appleton said.

"It’s disappointing because he’s a big part of what we do.

“We don’t lose many games when he’s in the team because he does such a fantastic job for us.

“It is a blow but we’ve dealt with it in the past, we did it earlier on in the season.”

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