GUSTAVO POYET expects Emanuele Giaccherini to play a crucial role in Sunderland’s survival battle – even though the Italian is still smarting from being axed from the squad at the weekend.

Giaccherini was not even on the substitutes’ bench as Sunderland ground out a goalless draw with Crystal Palace, and his last Premier League start came in the New Year’s Day defeat to Aston Villa.

The 28-year-old has tumbled down the pecking order in the last few months, with his latest snub being met with understandable disappointment given his status as a full Italy international.

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However, with Steven Fletcher facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines after damaging his ankle, Giaccherini could yet find himself thrust back into the first team as Sunderland attempt to claw back the three-point deficit currently separating them from safety.

Poyet understands the winger’s mounting frustration, but expects his professionalism to shine through if he is called upon in Saturday’s crunch relegation encounter with Norwich City.

“People will ask why Giaccherini wasn’t even on the bench,” said the Black Cats boss. “He’s an Italian international and I know, it hurts. And I need him.

“Maybe he doesn’t believe me, but I need him, because now if Fletch is not available then maybe we will need Giacchi there.

“And then he needs to help us, and I’m sure he will because he’s a great professional. He will be sad because he will probably think it was an opportunity lost for him, but we will need everybody.”

Fletcher had a scan on his injured ankle yesterday, and the full extent of the problem should become apparent within the next 24 hours.

The Scotsman, who has suffered recurring ankle problems for more than a year, landed awkwardly after jumping to win a header, and is extremely unlikely to feature at Carrow Road this weekend.

If he has damaged his ankle ligaments, he could miss the majority of the rest of the season, and while he has struggled to find his form in recent matches, a lengthy absence would represent a considerable blow given Jozy Altidore’s struggles in front of goal and Ignacio Scocco’s lack of experience in English football.

Fabio Borini is fast emerging as Sunderland’s most important centre-forward, but the Italian has only scored four goals in 35 Premier League appearances for the Black Cats and his permanent employers, Liverpool, and with goals proving hard to come by, Fletcher remains a key asset.

The weekend results did not really go in Sunderland’s favour, with Fulham and West Brom both claiming victories, and while Poyet’s side boast two games in hand on all of their relegation rivals, they would not want the three-point gap currently separating them from 17th position to get any larger.

After travelling to Norwich, four of Sunderland’s next six matches pit them against Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea, and Poyet accepts there is every chance of their survival bid going to the wire.

“We are all in this together,” he said. “We will try our best and we will have to go to the end. Then, at the end of the season, we will see if we are good enough or not.

“There is no place to hide. I always believe the table never lies in the end, so we have to keep going right to the end.”

The potential impact of relegation was underlined by the latest set of accounts that Sunderland released to Companies House at the weekend.

The results revealed a £23m loss, with turnover falling by £5m to £72m and the club’s bank overdraft trebling to £39m.

The latest accounts contain a TV income of £44m, a figure that has increased to £63m this season, with the £19m rise effectively cancelling out Sunderland’s annual losses.

However, relegation would see the Black Cats’ TV income fall to a parachute payment of £26m, effectively creating a £40m black hole in Ellis Short’s budget.

Some of that would be ameliorated by the automatic relegation clauses that have been inserted into the contracts of a majority of the players and staff currently on Sunderland’s books.

However, a fall into the Championship would force Short to increase his own personal investment just to keep the club on an even financial keel, something that would be complicated in the medium-to-long term by the Football League’s Financial Fair Play regulations.

The accounts document said: “The directors consider the major risk of the business to be a significant period of absence from the Premier League. Ongoing investment in the playing squad aims to reduce this risk.

“The directors consider the main market risk to the business to be the interest rates on the bank loan and the banking facilities.”