DION SANDERSON will not be available for Sunderland's play-off campaign if, as looks likely, the Black Cats find themselves having to negotiate the end-of-season shootout.

Blackpool are the visitors to the Stadium of Light tonight, with Sunderland having to overhaul the nine-point gap that currently separates them from second-placed Peterborough United with just three games remaining if they are to force their way into the top two.

Sanderson's back injury will keep him out of the last three games of the regular campaign, but it had been hoped that the Wolves centre-half might be available for the play-offs.

However, after a series of medical consultations with his permanent employers, Sunderland's management team have had to concede that the defender is extremely unlikely to be available for any of the play-off games.

Conor McLaughlin should be available for a possible play-off campaign, while it is also still hoped that Tom Flanagan could feature at some stage.

Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson said: "Dion will be out for six weeks. He’s a good personality and a great kid first and foremost, but the bit that most impressed me was how he stepped up in the leadership and communications skills areas, which shows he has a bright future.

"It’s a big blow, but I don’t think about those types of things in that way. I look at it as a challenge – otherwise it's woe is me – and it’s not about me, it’s about the team and giving someone an opportunity or adjusting it.

"If all goes well, I would expect Conor McLaughlin to be in and about the build-up to the Northampton game.

"With Flanno, you might be chasing it if you had him available for that game – but he might be, and we might have to chase it depending on circumstances over the next couple of games."