Wes Brown is on stand-by to take John O'Shea's place against Liverpool, with the Sunderland skipper a major injury doubt.
O'Shea picked up a calf problem in Saturday's defeat at Manchester City and Sam Allardyce is wary of risking the skipper in Wednesday's visit of Liverpool.
With fellow centre-half Younes Kaboul sidelined for up to two months, it leaves Allardyce with just veteran Brown and Under-21 prospect Tom Beadling as cover to start alongside ex-Liverpool man Sebastian Coates in the heart of Sunderland's back four.
Brown's only appearance this season came in last month's 6-2 rout at Everton where his rust was exposed by the Toffees, yet Allardyce has little option than to turn to the 36-year-old in Sunderland's plight at the wrong end of the table.
Allardyce said today: "Our defensive problems have re-arisen with Younes being injured for a period of time and it looks like John O'Shea has picked up a calf injury.
"It's not too serious, it's not as serious as Younes's, but he might miss Liverpool.
"We've still got Wes, but obviously Wes's problem is how few games he has played.
"But that's the reality for us.
"Even though Wes hasn't played, he has got a huge amount of experience that we hope he can use.
"We've struggled recently without Wes, so it's not all about him.
"It's about alleviating the fear that I think they are playing under at the moment, and trying to get them on a more positive note."
Allardyce will make a final decision on O'Shea's involvement against Liverpool tomorrow, although he is hopeful that the Republic of Ireland international will be available for next weekend's visit of Aston Villa.
But if O'Shea remains on the treatment table, then Beadling will have to come into Allardyce's thinking against Villa, if Brown is unable to play two games in three days.
"John O'Shea could be back for the Villa game, it's not too serious," added Allardyce.
"He could even say he feels alright to play against Liverpool, but I am erring on the cautious side.
"I couldn't afford for John to re-injure that calf and miss four or five weeks.
"We will make that decision tomorrow.
"We might have to throw young Tom in if Wes can't play two games in three days.
"Sometimes young lads go in and play without fear, but it's not like a Duncan Watmore playing at centre-half.
"There's only the goalie who can make fewer mistakes than the centre-half."