SUNDERLAND have suffered a double defensive blow, with confirmation of a potentially season-ending injury to Dion Sanderson being accompanied by further bad new relating to Tom Flanagan’s foot problem.

Sanderson is nursing a back problem that requires a period of rest, and while there is a chance he could be involved in a potential play-off campaign, the Wolves centre-half is expected to miss the remaining six games of the conventional season.

It had been hoped that Flanagan might be able to return to the first-team fold in the next week or so, but further investigations into his ongoing foot problem have revealed an issue that requires treatment to prevent him suffering related injuries to other parts of his body.

Sunderland’s medical staff are set to treat Flanagan with a series of injections, although if they do not work, there is a chance he will have to undergo an operation that would also end his campaign.

“There’s been quite a bit of negativity from the physio based on that third opinion we had,” said Johnson. “They’re going to treat it as a bone issue with the foot, although they still haven’t decided on the course of remedy. It could be an injection, it could be time or it could be a potential operation.

“I think we’ll probably go down the injection route to try to sniff out this problem that is leading to the mechanics of the left side of his body being completely different. That’s why he then pulled his left hamstring and had problems with his left hip flexor as well. It all stems from the original broken foot.”

Sanderson’s back problem has worsened over the course of the last few games, to the point where he was in significant pain in the closing stages of Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Wigan.

His absence will be a major blow, although Bailey Wright’s return means he is able to partner Luke O’Nien at the heart of the back four in tomorrow’s promotion clash at Blackpool.

“It’s difficult news because he’s (Sanderson) not going to be right in the short term,” confirmed Johnson. “It is best-case scenario in terms of there not being a fracture, but there’s a potential onset for a fracture with the pain.

“To be fair, he’s been struggling to get through the last couple of games, but I think he showed his warrior spirit by wanting to play and actually playing. You may have caught him wincing on four or five occasions, and it got too much to be able to manage through therapy.

“He had a scan, and that was best-case scenario because it showed no stress fracture, which was good. But he’s going to need some form of rest and recuperation period to heal and get rid of the inflammation.

“Obviously, he’s not our player, so we’ve got to consider the open lines of communication with Wolves. But Dion’s opinion matters hugely, and his opinion is that he is very much up for the fight and frustrated by this. It’s a setback, but it’s not fatal and it’s not final for this season.”