MARTIN O’Neill said he was not trying to make a point when he named only six players on the bench for the weekend’s cup tie rather than seven.
Many observers took the shortage of substitutes in the tie against Bolton as the manager flashing a message to owner Ellis Short in the January transfer window that reinforcements were needed just to field a full squad.
But the Black Cats boss said: “It wasn’t a prank, it’s just the way things are.
“We don’t have the biggest squad, and we’re really stretched at the moment.”
Stephane Sessegnon was due to be the seventh substitute, but as the club prepared to fly to the North West, the Benin international was forced to pull out.
“Sessegnon had to cry off before we boarded the plane, and we decided against just giving the shirt to some young player for the sake of it,” said O’Neill.
“We maybe could have called one of the younger players in, but there’s a danger that some young lad gets a shirt and then all of a sudden he thinks he’s part of the team.
“I don’t want that. I want the young players to earn that shirt, I really do.
“But don’t think that this was some sort of well-thought out masterplan – it was very late in the day when Sessegnon found he was too sore to come, and it became a bit of a problem.”
Captain Lee Cattermole and vice-captain John O’Shea are currently out injured, although not on the long-term injury list occupied by Wes Brown.
Meanwhile Sessegnon, Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson have all been playing through knocks.
And at the weekend Carlos Cuellar and Danny Rose both limped off with hamstring strains that could sideline them for the rest of the month.
O’Neill said: “The fact is that we are short on bodies and we are going to do something about if we can – well, not if we can, we NEED to do something about it.
“I’ve had conversations with the owner and think I get on reasonably well with him.
“He’s well aware that we need to strengthen, and he wants to do something about it.”