Sam Allardyce is keeping coy over whether a new centre-half will be top of his January hit-list, even though he has NO cover for his defensive trio.
John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Coates have impressed as a back three in the last two games after helping Sunderland to back-to-back clean sheets and victories.
But if any of the three are ruled out through injury or suspension, then Sunderland boss Allardyce will be forced to switched to a back four.
Veteran centre-half Wes Brown is currently sidelined with a knee problem, youngster Tom Beadling is on the verge of returning to full training after three months out with a broken ankle and even midfielder Jack Rodwell – who has previously played in defence – only resumed training yesterday.
Next month’s transfer window provides an opportunity for Allardyce to boost his defensive options, although he’s wary of narrowing his search for reinforcements to just one position.
He told the Gazette: “I don’t know if we can be position-specific for January.
“Obviously, you target positions which are more important than others.
“But if somebody popped up in another position that wasn’t as big a priority, but could be a massive bonus to the club and could make us better, then you’re still going to try to sign him.
“With Wes not being fit, we’ve not got another centre-half.
“If we got a problem in that area, then we’d have to go back to a back four.
“If we go to a back four and start playing well and getting results, then we might stick with that.
“But certainly at the moment, the back three is doing very, very well.”
Since arriving at the Stadium of Light in October, former centre-half Allardyce has spent the bulk of his time on the training ground working with defenders who had been conceding an average of more than two goals per game.
But he has been pleased with the turnaround in his defence, with Sunderland tripling their previous tally of clean sheets in the last two games.
“Yes, I think the back three have been nice and solid,” added Allardyce.
“Certainly in John and Younes, there’s a huge amount of experience.
“And, when needed, Costel (Pantilimon). He hasn’t been needed that much which is good news.
“That’s a good sign; when your keeper is not busy and is ready to make the save – which he did against Jonny Walters to keep it at 0-0 against Stoke.
“The back three and the two wing-backs are doing it well, and they’ve got the protection from the others, of course.
“And then in possession as time is going on, we seem to be getting better in that department too.
“Hopefully that will continue to grow.”