STEVEN FLETCHER could be facing a sustained spell on the sidelines, with the striker’s Achilles injury worse than first feared.
And that is likely to scupper Sheffield Wednesday’s hopes of re-signing Connor Wickham, with the England Under-21 striker now in line to remain at the Stadium of Light.
Fletcher missed Saturday’s Tyne-Wear derby with the Achilles problem which has been plaguing the Scotland international for several weeks.
The 26-year-old is thought to have seen a specialist about the injury earlier this week.
But Sunderland boss Gus Poyet admits the Black Cats are facing a dilemma over whether to send Fletcher for surgery or look to manage the problem while the club are in the thick of the relegation scrap.
Poyet said: “It’s affecting him more than I thought.
“I’m a bit worried about it.
“We’re analysing it with the medical staff. But we’re going to have to make a decision one way or the other.
“We’ll have to look at the games ahead and the chance of rest in between, but we’ll need to make a strong decision.”
Fletcher has endured a difficult campaign after missing the start of the season with the ankle injury sustained last March and netting just three times for the Black Cats.
The fresh injury concerns over the £12million frontman ended any prospect of Wickham re-joining Sheffield Wednesday before Friday’s transfer deadline after Sunderland recalled the £8million frontman from his loan spell at Hillsborough last week.
Poyet has boosted his attacking ranks with the £4million signing of Argentine international Nacho Scocco, albeit the 28-year-old remains short of match fitness.
But the Sunderland boss admits that if Fletcher is sidelined, he will be wary of letting Wickham depart on an emergency loan.
“It probably makes it more likely that Connor will stay for longer,” added Poyet.
“Connor has got plenty of admirers, you can’t imagine how many.
“But he wasn’t going anywhere on loan before the transfer deadline.
“He’s part of the squad and he’s done very well at Sheffield. That’s why he’s got so many options.
“But at the same time, he’s our player.
“He’s been on the bench for the last two games and he would have come on against Stoke, if Phil Bardsley hadn’t got injured, which changed my plans.
“The decision at the moment is that he’s our player and we need him here.”