SUNDERLAND boss Lee Johnson is considering recalling Jack Diamond and Josh Hawkes from their respective loan spells in order to increase his options in the second half of the season.

Having moved to within two points of the League One summit as they drew 1-1 with Oxford United at the weekend, the Black Cats will look to improve their position further when they host relegation-threatened Morecambe at the Stadium of Light tonight.

Johnson’s squad remains stretched to its limits because of injuries, so as well as finalising preparations for this evening’s game, the Black Cats head coach has also spent the last couple of days firming up plans for January.

He expects to be active in the transfer market at the turn of the year, but in Diamond and Hawkes, he already has two players he could add to his squad next month.

Diamond has been in fine form on loan at Harrogate Town – the midfielder scored a dramatic late winner as his temporary employers knocked Portsmouth out of the FA Cup at the weekend – while Hawkes has been a regular starter for League Two Tranmere Rovers. Both players signed loan deals to the end of the season, but both can be recalled once the transfer window reopens.

“We’re in a good position to go and strengthen again in January, and that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing fortunes at it,” said Johnson. “It can mean manipulating your current squad or bringing back players who are out on loan like Jack Diamond or Josh Hawkes, who have been doing extremely well. We’ve got a lot of options.”

Johnson will have to perform something of a balancing act next month, with the need to plug short-term gaps caused by ongoing injury issues existing alongside an understandable desire to make longer-term improvements that are likely to be more costly.

A lack of full-backs has been a major issue in the first half of the season, and will be something Johnson is especially keen to address, but the Black Cats boss acknowledges the importance of adopting a flexible approach that will enable him to react to any opportunities that emerge next month.

“Lots of bits of information have to come into any decision-making process,” he said. “At times, you have to plug a gap if there’s an issue there because of injury. That could mean a short-term loan or maybe a short-term contract.

“Then, at other times, you’ve got to go big and pay for somebody you think is going to be the right choice for the next three to five years.

"Credit to the club and the board, every time we’ve had that opportunity, with the likes of (Dennis) Cirkin, (Niall) Huggins and Ross (Stewart) last season, we’ve done that.

“We believe those players can grow with us as a football club and move forward with us. It’s about making the right decision for the future of the club. Sometimes that’s short term, sometimes that’s medium term, but generally you always want to make good decisions for the long-term stability of the club.”

Johnson’s immediate priority is to guide his side to victory against Morecambe tonight, with his selection options severely limited by the length of the injury list.

Frederik Alves became the latest player to suffer a setback when he damaged his shoulder last week, forcing him to miss Saturday’s game. He is not expected to be involved tonight.

Alex Pritchard was substituted at the weekend as Johnson felt he was starting to become fatigued, but the midfielder, who is currently keeping Elliot Embleton out of the starting side, should be available to face Morecambe.

“Pritch was blowing,” said Johnson. “We are still building him up. I’m close to the pitch and I could see that at that point, he was struggling to get air into his lungs in terms of recovery.

"So we put Embo (Embleton) into the ten, he has that similar quality to Pritchard.

“Pritch is going to be important for us – I think you see that. He’s 95 per cent fit, and I think he has that quality to unlock doors at this level that most people haven’t.”

Sunderland (probable, 3-5-2): Hoffman; Wright, Flanagan, Doyle; Gooch, Neil, Pritchard, Winchester, Dajaku; Stewart, Broadhead.