Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is keeping his fingers crossed over full-back George McCartney ahead of the Barclays Premier League clash with Portsmouth.

The Northern Ireland international is battling against the hamstring strain which kept him out of last weekend's 1-0 defeat at Fulham amid a growing defensive crisis.

Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson, who occupied the full-back berths at Craven Cottage, are both suspended, while Craig Gordon (broken arm), Anton Ferdinand (ankle), John Mensah (calf), Lee Cattermole (medial ligament) and Bolo Zenden (hamstring) are all out.

Bruce will be forced to use the depth of his squad and has drafted in 18-year-old striker Ryan Noble after his FA Youth Cup hat-trick on Monday.

Steve Bruce has warned his Sunderland side their whole season could rest on the clash.

The injury-hit Black Cats return to the comforts of the Stadium of Light hoping to rediscover the form which saw them beat Arsenal there last time out, and not turn in the kind of insipid display which resulted in back-to-back away defeats at Wigan and Fulham.

He said: "This is possibly our biggest game. We have let ourselves down badly.

"But enough has been said about the away form. We have had inquests on inquests, but it is done, it's dusted and the good thing about football is you can always do something about it.

"We have got back-to-back home games, three of the next four are at home over Christmas - can we, even with the injuries and suspensions we have got, go and keep the good run at home going?

"If we can, we can look forward to a good new year."

Portsmouth goalkeeper David James looks set to return between the posts for the trip.

Asmir Begovic is likely to make way for the England international, who has recovered from a calf injury.

Younes Kaboul is back after serving a one-match ban against Burnley last Saturday, while Papa Bouba Diop could make his first appearance since August as he steps up his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Portsmouth manager Avram Grant is certain his side can pull off a great escape from the Premier League's drop zone despite a wretched season on and off the pitch so far.

Pompey are bottom of the Barclays Premier League and earlier this week the club were forced to deny claims they were on the brink of entering administration, with unpaid transfer fees and other debts hanging over them.

The statement on behalf of owner Ali Al Faraj also stated that Grant would have money to spend in the January transfer window, despite reports claiming he would mainly be concerned with selling players to pay down the debt.

Portsmouth are four points behind West Ham, who occupy 17th place, as they prepare to take on Sunderland, with Grant certain his team could produce what would be one of the Premier League's most unlikely survival stories.

The former Chelsea manager said: "We need to come to the end of January in a position from where we can get some good results and escape from the relegation zone.

"I think we can do it. We need to think about things game by game but we need to think about more than this.

"If we come to the end of January and we are in a position like we are now, we can stay in the league.

"We would like to be in a better situation than this but we are taking it from game to game and are looking to take the points."

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Topics:
#Asmir Begovic
#Sunderland
#Portsmouth
#Internationals
#David James
#Younes Kaboul
#Papa Bouba Diop
#Lee Cattermole
#John Mensah
#Anton Ferdinand
#Premier League
#Steve Bruce
#Kieran Richardson
#Craig Gordon
#George McCartney
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