HOWARD WILKINSON'S Sunderland nightmare worsened yesterday when right-backs Stephen Wright and Mark Rossiter were both sidelined for at least a month.

A scan revealed that Wright, signed from Liverpool last summer in a £3m deal, suffered a torn hamstring as his side fought out a 1-1 draw in Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie with Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.

The replay is a week tonight and Sunderland face a potential dress-rehearsal for the next stage of the competition when they entertain Blackburn Rovers this Saturday.

Yesterday's fourth-round draw presented the Black Cats with a trip to Ewood Park on the weekend of January 25-26, if they beat fellow Premiership strugglers Bolton.

Their task was made harder as Wright and Rossiter lengthened the list of players affected by injury or illness to a staggering 16.

Rossiter, Wright's replacement after only 16 minutes at Bolton, lasted a mere ten minutes before he succumbed to a knee ligament injury, the full extent of which has still to be confirmed.

Republic of Ireland rookie Rossiter is booked for further tests, but manager Wilkinson is hoping he will be available again early next month.

Darren Williams, who made only his fifth start this season and first for over a month in a midfield role against Bolton, is likely to be asked to fill in at right-back.

On a more upbeat note, skipper Michael Gray (hamstring), midfielders Gavin McCann (illness) and Kevin Kilbane (ankle) and forward David Bellion (ankle and virus) are all expected to return for the crucial Premiership clash with Blackburn, against whom Sunderland drew 0-0 on the opening day of the season.

Sunderland have now been drawn away from home five times this term - they travelled to Cambridge, Arsenal and Sheffield United in the Worthington Cup.

Rossiter, meanwhile, received better news when he was named as one of five Sunderland players in the Republic's preliminary squad for the FIFA World Youth Cup.

The others are Sean Thornton, Stephen Capper, Keith Graydon and Richie Ryan. The tournament is being staged in the United Arab Emirates and runs from March 25 to April 16.

* Sunderland are ready to reward goalkeeper Jurgen Macho for his heroics this season by offering the Austrian international a new contract.

Macho's existing deal expires this summer, but he is keen to stay after proving a more than able deputy for Thomas Sorensen, who dislocated his elbow at Arsenal in October.

Howard Wilkinson currently has four international keepers at the club - Macho, Dane Sorensen, Norwegian Myhre and Estonian Mart Poom, who is on loan from Derby County.

And the Black Cats' boss said: "I have agreed with Jurgen that we would talk about a contract this month. I have read a few things in the newspapers about what he wants to do, but I want to speak to him myself."

Macho is under pressure from Sorensen, who is now fit, but Myhre and Poom are both injured.

* Sunderland will hold further talks with Manchester United next week over a proposed deal for French front-runner David Bellion, who has rejected a new contract at the Stadium of Light.

* Tickets for the FA Cup replay with Bolton go on sale from 10am today.

Prices - East (Fosters)/West and Premier Concourse: adults £20, juniors and senior citizens £10. All other areas: adults £15, juniors and senior citizens £8.

Season ticketholders/Black Cat members have until 5.30pm on Friday to purchase their seats.

* Sunderland's reserve fixture away to Liverpool, called off on December 19, has been rearranged for a week on Thursday at Chester City (7.00).

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