Sunderland pair to miss run-in
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill has been dealt a devastating double blow when it was confirmed that both Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole will miss the rest of the season.
Leading scorer Fletcher suffered ankle ligament damage on international duty with Scotland last week, and midfielder Cattermole underwent surgery on a persistent knee problem on Wednesday.
A club statement said: "Sunderland have confirmed today that striker Steven Fletcher and captain Lee Cattermole will miss the rest of the current campaign due to injury."
The statement added: "Cattermole underwent an operation on his knee earlier today and Fletcher sustained ankle ligament damage whilst on international duty with Scotland.
"It is not known at this stage if Fletcher will require an operation, with the injury requiring further assessment in the coming weeks. Both players will play no further part in the Black Cats' 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season."
The news could hardly have come at a worse time for O'Neill, whose side finds themselves firmly entrenched in a battle for top-flight survival with eight games of the campaign to play.
They face leaders Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on Saturday desperate to end a run of seven league games without a victory which has yielded just three points and left them only four clear of the drop zone.
Fletcher in particular will be a huge loss after paying off a large proportion of the £12million the club invested in him during the summer with 11 goals, but having scored five in his first four games for the Black Cats, he has managed only one in his last seven, with the supply lines having dried up alarmingly.
The 26-year-old former Wolves frontman was injured just two minutes into Scotland's 2-1 home defeat by Wales in Friday night's World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park and was carried from the field on a stretcher.
If he does need surgery, player and manager alike will hope he can return in time for the start of the new campaign.