Injuries and player sales have conspired to leave Sunderland manager David Moyes particularly short handed at the back ahead of Middlesbrough’s visit to the Stadium of Light.
A back injury to Lamine Kone that the more cynical among the Black Cats’ support may suggest was not unrelated to the player turning down the offer of a new contract amid rumours he is wanted by Everton, is the latest casualty.
The Wearsiders lost just three times in the 15 games the 27-year-old played a part in following his mid-season switch from Lorient in 2015/16 and his absence, alongside that of several other defenders, could prove pivotal in the first of the top tier’s north-east derbies this term.
Younes Kaboul, who partnered Kone in central defence last weekend against Manchester City, has left the club to join Watford in the meantime, while two of the pair’s most likely deputies, Jan Kirchoff and Billy Jones are also doubtful for the clash.
Another, Manchester United loanee Paddy McNair, hardly got his Sunderland career off to the best of starts by bagging a decisive own goal against the Citizens, while attack dog midfield screen Lee Cattermole is one more whose participation is touch and go.
Despite this, David Moyes’ men remain 31/20 favourites for three points at their newly-promoted visitors’ expense, with the draw a 21/10 bet and Boro only slightly shorter at 2/1.
Aitor Karanka’s men would have every right to feel aggrieved about such an assessment given they were perhaps a shade unlucky not win their first game of the season against Stoke.
It took an inspired Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick to haul a largely-nullified Potters side back into the game at the Riverside and, for guests who boasted the best defence in the Championship last term, one goal could be enough for all three points against the Black Cats.
The bwin odds moguls go 25/4 about Boro prevailing by just such a scoreline at the Stadium of Light.