David Moyes has described Jordan Pickford's two-month lay-off as a "massive blow" - but says Sunderland are lucky to have Vito Mannone to fill his gloves.
The England Under-21 international has been ruled out for six to eight weeks after stretching his cruciate ligament in the 3-1 Boxing Day defeat to Manchester United.
Moyes was relieved the 22-year-old hadn't ruptured his ACL, a serious injury which has ruled Paddy McNair and Duncan Watmore out for the season.
But Pickford's prolonged absence is a still a blow to a Sunderland side battling relegation.
Moyes, though, is pleased he has the experienced Mannone to call upon, the Italian started the season as the number one but lost his place after a spell out following elbow surgery.
Moyes said: "Jordan has unfortunately stretched his ACL – his cruciate liagment – but thank goodness he has not ruptured it like Paddy and Duncan did.
"It was when Man U scored their second goal, and it happened in the collision when Papy slid into him.
"It looks like he will be out for six to eight weeks.
"The good news is that it is not as bad as maybe at one point we thought, but obviously it is a massive blow for us because he has been excellent.
"He's arguably been maybe the best young English player – new talent – and, more importantly, he has saved us points."
Moyes added: "Since his first game at Southampton, when he let one in, everybody has said how good he has been.
"It was a case of how he reacted [to the mistake at Southampton] and he has reacted brilliantly.
"You have to remember that he is young, and he will get better.
"This will not be a problem to him.
"He is out for six to eight weeks, he's a young goalkeeper and he will miss a bit of time, but sometimes taking a young player out of the firing line can help them a little bit."
Mannone, 28, has been chomping at the bit to make his first team return since recovering from the elbow injury that ruled him out for two months.
Mannone was in goal for the 2-1 Premier League defeats to Manchester City and Middlesbrough before going under the surgeon’s knife after rupturing elbow ligaments in training.
On Mannone, Moyes added: "We're fortunate that we have got Vito's experience, and we will need it because Jordan has been saving us points.
"We'll need Vito to do the same.
"He has done it here for a long time, he's got a great record here, so let's hope he can do it again."
Meanwhile, there was more encouraging news on the injury front with the news Jack Rodwell (hamstring), Steven Pienaar (calf) and Javier Manquillo (hamstring) have all been training in
"Thankfully Javi Manquillo, Steven Pienaar and Jack Rodwell have all returned to light training, although I don't know if they are totally ready yet," added Moyes.
"We have got them back, however, and that will help us with numbers over this busy period."
Summer signing Mika will deputise on the bench during Pickford’s absence with Moyes’ hands tied regarding recruitment in January after chief executive Martin Bain confirmed earlier this
month that transfer business next month will be very limited.