23 SUNDERLAND ECHO Monday, January 11, 2021 www.sunderlandecho.com SPORT Johnson’s first Cats signing Carl is gunning for a matchday place Phil Smith firstname.lastname@example.org @Phil_Smith Lee Johnson says that Carl Winchester has been ‘playing below his natural level’ after making the midfielder his first Sunderland signing. The former Forest Green Rovers midfielder has signed an initial two-anda-half year deal to join the Black Cats, adding another option in midfield for Johnson. Johnson worked with the Northern Irishman at Oldham Athletic, and said that Winchester was attracting i nte re s t f ro m to p c lub s at the time. Sunderland’s head coach has also said that data analysis showed Winchester to be a strong option for the Black Cats. “A f t e r a s s e s s i n g o u r squad and establishing the p ro f i l e o f m id f ie l d e r we wanted to bring in, we evaluated all the elements, inclusive of the data, and felt that Carl was the right player to add to our squad,” Johnson said. "He is a good player who is in the prime of his career, and his versatility means he can play in a number of positions, ensuring he will also bring depth to our squad. "W h e n h e wa s a you n g player at Oldham, every top c lub wa nte d h i m , wh ic h shows the potential he has always had.” Johnson added: "He has represented some good clubs, but in terms of division, we believe he has been Carl Winchester has become Lee Johnson’s first Sunderland signing. p l ay i n g b e l ow h i s n atu ra l level.” Winchester said he wou l d ‘g ive h i s a l l ’ fo r th e Black Cats. "It’s a massive club and once I heard about the inter- est, there was only one place I wanted to come.” He said: "I’ll give my all for the team and I’ll go out there and wear my heart on my sleeve. "The head coach believes in me and I believe in myself. "I ’m c o m i n g i nt o my prime, so I’m hoping I can settle in well with the lads and kick on from there.” Winchester will not be able to make his Black Cats debut tomorrow night, when League Two club Port Vale visit the Stadium of Light in the first knockout round of the Papa John’s Trophy. The midfielder has alre a d y p l aye d f o r Fo re s t Green Rovers in that competition. So he will have to wait for the trip to AFC Wimbledon next weekend to push for selection in Lee Johnson’s matchday squad. Flanagan’s injury blow ‘is a difficult one t o take’, admits Johnson weeks, and will now undergo the necessary treatment and recovery. "F l a n n o h a s got a b ro - ken metatarsal sustained, I th i n k , b e fo re I c a m e i n ," Johnson said. "H e ’s b e e n p l a y i n g o n with that but it’s painful, and losing him is a difficult one to take. It’s a very small break or fracture. "It could be as short as three weeks or it could be as long as six weeks. "I think it will be the shorter version, and that’s good because he is importa nt a n d I th i n k h e’s b e e n playing well." Johnson also confirmed that Jordan Willis was the player he said would miss the game due to illness in his pre-match remarks. T h e d e fe n d e r, wh o h a s not started a game since the 2-1 defeat to MK Dons on No- vember 7, has tested negative for Covid-19. "J o r d a n w a s a b i t o f a frustrating one because he would have played tonight in some shape or form. "He has a cold, he has had a Covid test and it’s not Covid. "I need to demand players get out there, but he’s ill and you can’t legislate for that. "We will need everybody, though, so it is really impor- tant we look after the boys a n d tr y to p reve nt th e m picking up these kind of bugs." Johnson will monitor Conor McLaughlin and Lee Burge over the coming days a f te r th ey we re b oth re - placed at half-time on Saturday night. McLaughlin is managing an ongoing hernia problem, while Burge suffered an eye injury moments before his Tom Flanagan is likely to be sidelined until February due to a broken metatarsal. T h e No rth e r n I re l a n d p l aye r h a s b e e n a reg u l a r for the Black Cats this season but was a surprise omission from the squad for the 1-1 draw with Hull City on Saturday night. Lee Johnson confirmed a f t e r t h e g a m e t h at t h e 28-year-old has been suffering from the injury in recent e r ro r a l l owe d G ra nt M c - Cann's side to take the lead at the Stadium of Light. "He came off at half-time complaining of a little bit of a blind spot in his left eye," Johnson explained. "It was better to be safe than sorry. "Whether that affected h i s ba l a n c e o r h i s j ud ge - m e nt fo r th e goa l o r n ot , we'll give him the benefit of the doubt."