STEVE BRUCE hopes to learn the true extent of George Mc- Cartneys hamstring injury today amid fears that the Sunderland full-back will be out for six weeks.
Having sanctioned the sale of Danny Collins to Stoke six days ago, Bruces only recognised cover for McCartney at left-back is Academy prospect Michael Liddle.
Bruce has the option of playing new signing John Mensah, who would prefer to play at centre-back, and rightback Phil Bardsley on the left.
Kieran Richardson has also played there, but with a lack of left wing alternatives the managers decision to severely reduce the size of his squad in the last few weeks will be tested for the first time.
McCartney pulled up in training with the Northern Ireland squad on Friday and missed Saturdays World Cup draw in Poland.
He is out of the qualifier against Slovakia on Wednesday and the Sunderland medical staff have been informed that the defender could be out for six weeks.
One option Bruce has is to step up his interest in former West Ham defender Lucas Neill.
The Australian, released by the Hammers in June, has had talks with Sunderland but hinted over the weekend he is ready to turn his back on the Premier League.
Galatasaray and Atletico Madrid are interested, with Blackburn and Hull also keen.
Im in talks with a club outside England. Its a change from what Ive been used to, he said. A decision will take a lot of courage so thats why Ive taken my time.
Bruce now has a squad of 23, but that includes Daryl Murphy, David Healy, Roy O- Donovan and Russell Anderson all players he would be prepared to move on.
Two of those to have been sold by Bruce, meanwhile, revealed how easy it was to team up again with former manager Roy Keane at Ipswich.
Carlos Edwards, who moved to Ipswich with Grant Leadbitter for £4m last week, said: I had a decent few years at Sunderland, but some good things always have to end.
When Roy Keane came in, talks were ongoing for a few days, but in the end I signed a two-year deal with the option of a third.
I am delighted with the move, especially when the manager at Sunderland made it clear to me that I was not in his plans.
Leadbitter revealed: I needed to move on. As soon as I heard Roy Keane wanted me it was an easy decision. In my mind it was done and dusted straight away.
Sunderland are a big club but Ipswich are a big club too and thats why I am here. This club has the stature of a Premier League club, but its the players that have got to make it happen.
Dwight Yorke, released by Sunderland in June, has announced his retirement from football at the age of 37.
He plans to go into coaching, and said: I always planned to stay in football. My aim is to build up some experience and then use what Ive learned and one day manage in England.