Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson has admitted he faces a ‘huge call’ in regards to centre-back Tom Flanagan’s participation for the club in the League One play-offs.
The Black Cats’ opponents for the end of season knockout were confirmed today as Lincoln City, with Sunderland finishing in fourth place after a 1-1 draw with relegated Northampton Town at the Stadium of Light.
They slipped away from an automatic promotion battle in recent weeks after not winning in six league outings, and that form has seen them slip to where they have in the table, but they will have home advantage in the second leg of the semi-final against the Imps.
After injury scares last week, Johnson welcomed both Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady back into the fold, but it’s at the back where the real concerns lie.
Dion Sanderson was recently ruled out for the rest of the season as well as Jordan Willis, which has meant Luke O’Nien is still filling in in the middle of defence.
Johnson could do with a natural centre-back returning though and he’s sweating on the fitness of Flanagan, who hasn’t played since the EFL Trophy final in mid-March against Tranmere.
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Flanagan has suffered setbacks since then but Johnson had hoped to have the Northern Ireland international in the team against the Cobblers today, but it didn’t materialise.
He’s now sweating on his availability ahead of the play-offs and if he’s fit he may be thrown straight into the mix against Michael Appleton’s side.
“It’s a difficult one with Tom,” Johnson admitted, per the Sunderland Echo.
“The timing of it means that you’re chasing it but he’s got to feel right and be right.
“I would have liked to have seen him in the game today in an ideal world, but that came a little bit early.
“We’ve got to make a serious call, whatever they might be, on three or four of the lads.”
Johnson could definitely do with nursing Flanagan back to fitness for the play-offs in 10 days time as if one of Bailey Wright or O’Nien go down with an injury then there’s no-one else to turn to.
Flanagan has only made 16 league appearances this season and like many Black Cats defenders has struggled with injuries.
But his experience could be vital in the next few weeks and after Sunderland’s recent struggles, he could be the calming influence needed.