Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole is unlikely to feature for the remainder of the season due to a recurring knee injury, according to manager Martin O’Neill.
The former Wigan midfielder has appeared in just 10 league games for the Black Cats this year, completing the full 90 minutes only six times.
While Cattermole's absence is yet to be confirmed, O’Neill does not expect him to play any further part in Sunderland’s run-in as they battle against relegation.
"Lee has a few more days to go after having had the injection," the Northern Irish boss told the Sunderland Echo. "The specialist told him not to do a great deal and while he is obviously working with the physiotherapist, he is not doing anything that will risk damaging his knee.
"We hope for the best but, to me, if he comes back this season, then that would be a bonus - and an unexpected bonus. We may have to cope without him and even if he does successfully come back from the injury, he will still be nowhere near match fit.”
With only four points separating Sunderland from the bottom three, Cattermole’s absence will hurt the Black Cats - though their manager has backed the side to get out of trouble regardless.
!We have had to do without him pretty much all season," O’Neill continued. "He has definitely been a loss to us, no question about that. We have missed that drive, the things that he would give us, but we have had to make do without it.
"It has been a tough old season. It has been tough since the very first day down at the Emirates Stadium and that's just the way it has been. But I think because we've been uncomfortably placed, the players are used to that, and should be able to rise to the occasion in these key games ahead."