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Sunderland Suffer Survival Setback With News of Steven Fletcher's Injury

29/03/2013 12:19 GMT | Updated 27/05/2013 10:12 BST

Sunderland's Steven Fletcher has taken the 'international break' a little too seriously.

Okay, so the striker may not actually have broken anything, but he has sustained an injury that has ended his season early.

Given his importance, it's not particularly good news for the Black Cats, even without taking into consideration that they're sitting just four points above the drop-zone, have won just two league games since the start of the year, are currently are without a win in seven matches and their next four fixtures include Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton.

So, while there isn't exactly a good time to lose your top scorer - one who has accounted for a third of your league goals this term - this setback has arrived at an especially bad time.

Sunderland have two strikers on the books who will be required to shoulder the burden, and thus far this season they have a combined goal tally of four goals, one of which was in the Championship, and none in a red and white shirt.

Danny Graham's £5m arrival was preceded by a chorus of boos, and he's done little to win round the Sunderland faithful. Fletcher dropped slightly deeper to accommodate the former Swansea man, playing more as a 'number 10' with Stephane Sessegnon asked to play out wide. Strangely, though, while the two asked to play different roles haven't done too badly, it is Graham - playing in his preferred 'number 9' position - who has looked the most out of place.

However, Fletcher's injury will mean he's all but certain to remain a fixture in the side until the end of the season, which will add more pressure onto his shoulders.

It's unlikely Martin O'Neill will deviate too far from the setup that has proved unsuccessful, with either Sessegnon playing behind Graham and James McClean coming back into the side, or a straight replacing of Fletcher with Connor Wickham.

The former seems more likely at the moment, given O'Neill was happy to let Wickham leave on loan, despite having just Fletcher and Graham as his other attacking options and a squad that was, on the whole, short of numbers.

The Northern Irishman's tactics, perhaps more than his selection, have frustrated this season. With the likes of Fletcher, Sessegnon, McClean and Adam Johnson regularly in the side, fans expected to see a reasonably offensive outfit, with the triumvirate of the latter playing behind the Scot. This has, however, been turned into a 4-5-1, with Johnson and McClean, or Sess, often found no further forward than the halfway line.

Some fans demanded a return to the archaic system of 4-4-2, with a compromise of sorts offered with the pairing mentioned above of Fletcher behind Graham. Again, this has proved far more attacking in theory than in practice.

With Fletcher injured, a silver lining could be found from trying something new. After all, their form can hardly get any worse.

The central midfield is particularly weak, so perhaps adopting a three-man midfield would provide a more solid platform, allowing the likes of Johnson and Sessegnon to play further forward. That said, there should also be a case made for dropping Adam Johnson, for at least a game or two, to serve as the proverbial 'kick up the backside' he appears to need.

A change of manager - as some fans of suggested - is not what is needed, but a change in the manager's approach is. He's been too conservative this season; after the international break, it's time to go for broke.