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O'Neill concerned as injuries mount
SUNDERLAND manager Martin O'Neill last night admitted his mounting "concern" at the club's lengthening defensive injury list.
Wes Brown and Carlos Cuellar both hobbled off during the first half of yesterday's 3-2 friendly win over FC Groningen, a game that ensured the Black Cats finished third in the Peace Cup.
Cuellar lasted just 13 minutes before he suffered what appeared to be a thigh injury and was replaced by Titus Bramble.
Brown limped off shortly before the interval after a blow to his leg, and there are fears he has suffered a serious enough injury to threaten his availability for the start of the season.
The pair will be reassessed as a matter of urgency this week, with Sunderland's players due to return from South Korea later today.
Phil Bardsley and Matt Kilgallon did not even travel to the Far East having sustained minor niggles in training last week, so O'Neill could potentially be without four defenders when he takes his side to Hartlepool for their next pre-season friendly on Friday.
To make matters worse, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was also forced to sit out yesterday's game in Suwon after injuring his groin in Sunderland's opening Peace Cup game against Seongnam.
"Wes has done some damage and that's a concern," said O'Neill. "Carlos complained of his thigh being sore. Simon had a groin problem so we decided not to risk him in the game."
O'Neill will hope to step up his recruitment drive before heading to Victoria Park in four days time, but weekend reports suggesting Sunderland had signed James Collins and Stephen Warnock were disproved when the duo turned out for Aston Villa in a friendly in the United States yesterday.
Nevertheless, a bid is anticipated, with O'Neill particularly keen to sign Warnock in order to plug a hole at left-back that has existed for a number of seasons.
Yesterday's victory represented a dramatic end to Sunderland's Peace Cup campaign, with the Wearsiders scoring two goals in the final three minutes to claim a win.
They opened the scoring in the 19th minute as Connor Wickham, who started up front alongside Fraizer Campbell, converted Bramble's headed knock-down.
Groningen levelled moments later as Jun Suk found the net with an acrobatic bicycle kick, and the Dutch side claimed the lead three minutes before the break when Mitchell Schet evaded Kieran Richardson to slot the ball past Black Cats goalkeeper Ben Wilson, who was deputising for Simon Mignolet.
Sunderland pressed for an equaliser throughout most of the second half and got their reward when Campbell converted substitute Ryan Noble's cross from close range.
And Noble provided a grandstand finish when he drove home a winner from long range in injury-time.
"Ryan was very positive and scored a fantastic goal, which he deserved," said O'Neill. "He made a big impact in the 15 minutes he was on - he tried to get hold of the ball and didn't give it away.
"All in all, it's been a good trip for us. I have started to learn something about some of the younger players and even a wee bit more about the senior ones too. Overall, in terms of fitness and education it's been excellent."
Sunderland: Wilson (Pickford 64), Gardner, Brown (Egan 36), Cuellar (Bramble 13), Richardson (Noble 77), Colback, Cattermole, Meyler, Lynch (Laing 60), Campbell, Wickham.