Bart-Williams a doubt with bad back
CHRIS Bart-Williams suffered a setback in training yesterday and is therefore a doubt for this afternoon's FA Cup fourth round tie against Sunderland.
CHRIS Bart-Williams suffered a setback in training yesterday and is therefore a doubt for this afternoon's FA Cup fourth round tie against Sunderland, writes Carl Marston.
Midfielder Bart-Williams has been struggling with a sore back all this week. He was expected to be given the all-clear, but now he faces a late fitness test.
"Chris is not so clever after training. His back has been giving him problems," revealed Town manager Joe Royle last night.
"However, we do have other options in midfield. We will just have to see how Chris is feeling in the morning."
Dutchman Fabian Wilnis missed last weekend's thrilling 6-4 victory over Crewe, due to a one-match suspension, but he is available again and will definitely start today.
Wilnis will resume his regular position at right-back, which will allow his deputy Jermaine Wright to push into midfield.
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Wright would be an obvious replacement for Bart-Williams, if the ex-Nottingham Forest and Charlton midfielder fails his fitness test.
Better news surrounded defender John McGreal, who was another player to be dogged by a back injury over the last few days.
McGreal trained yesterday and suffered no reaction, so he is set to continue his partnership with Richard Naylor in central defence.
Drissa Diallo, who has not started a match since last September, due to a knee injury, is on stand-by. Diallo made his first appearance for four months as a 56th-minute substitute against Crewe last Saturday, and he featured for the Reserves in midweek.
"John (McGreal) came through training and he'll be fine. There's no problem with him," said Royle.
The Town boss has added teenager, Scott Mitchell, to the squad, due to Bart-Williams' injury concerns.
Looking ahead to today's clash, Royle said: "Sunderland are a very strong, physical side, though they do nothing untoward.
"We have spoken about that aspect in training, and the players should be able to deal with it.
"Sunderland have several players of Premiership quality. They have a very strong spine, with experienced players likes Jason McAteer, Joachim Bjorklund and Phil Babb. Mart Poom is also one of the best keepers in the First Division.
"We are playing them twice at home over the next three months, and the league game will be the most important. But I want to be greedy and win both," added Royle.
Both defender Georges Santos and striker Darren Bent remain on the injured list.
Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy, like Royle, has his eye on promotion as well as progress in the FA Cup.
And McCarthy has heaped special praise on his chairman Bob Murray, for the Wearsiders recent upturn in fortunes.
McCarthy could do little to save Sunderland from relegation out of the Premiership, following his appointment last March. Debts spiralled towards £38million, which meant selling on the club's best players at knock-down prices.
Two defeats at the start of this season, at the hands of Nottingham Forest and Millwall, left the Black Cats in serious trouble, but a few months on and the team are fourth in the table.
Furthermore, Murray was this week able to promise McCarthy he would not have to sell prize assets, Argentine Julio Arca and keeper Mart Poom, during the transfer window and re-affirm his commitment to take the club back into the top flight.
"I understood when I took the job that changes were going to have to be made because I remember asking the question," said McCarthy.
"There have been maybe more changes than I thought would be made, I have to be honest, but that's that.
"You come in actually not thinking about that side of it. You're looking forward to doing the job and being involved and being the manager of Sunderland.
"But I think, to be honest, the club have done a remarkable job because I've seen Bob's comments, saying that the business side – and I don't get involved in that too much, I don't want to – is now in a far better position and a stable position."
Sunderland are well-placed to mount a genuine challenge for an immediate return to the Premiership during the remaining months of the season, and that is a major achievement after only just avoiding yet another unwanted record – 18 successive league defeats – earlier in the campaign.
"After two games at the start of the season, I saw the word 'free-fall' was mentioned and it's about turning it around," said McCarthy.
"That takes a bit of moral strength from the players, to go to Preston after 17 games and win 2-0 and play as well as we did, and then to get us into fourth spot where we are now.
"It's too easy to say players aren't bothered, players are this, players are that. I think they've shown they care and they're passionate about playing and want to do well for this club," concluded McCarthy.