SUNDERLAND'S hopes of avoiding relegation received a double blow when leading goal-scorer Steven Fletcher and captain Lee Cattermole were ruled out for the rest of the season.
Fletcher, who has scored 11 of Sunderland's 33 Premier League goals this season, damaged his ankle ligaments in Scotland's World Cup qualifying defeat to Wales.
He will be out for more than six weeks and may need surgery.
Midfielder Cattermole had knee surgery earlier this week and the loss of both players is a massive blow to manager Martin O'Neill, whose side host runaway leader Manchester United late tonight.
Sunderland have failed to win any of their previous seven Premier League games and are only four points above third-last Wigan Athletic.
With Fletcher sidelined, the onus is now on Danny Graham, who is still to find the back of the net following his transfer from Swansea in January, to score the goals to keep Sunderland up as O'Neill has limited options following his decision to let Fraizer Campbell and Louis Saha leave in the transfer window.