Sunderland: 'EFL let us down over Covid', says boss Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson was taking charge of his fourth game in 11 days since taking over over as Sunderland boss on 5 December
Lee Johnson was managing his fourth game in 11 days since taking over as Sunderland boss on 5 December

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson feels "let down" by the English Football League for not providing "clarity" on whether Tuesday's game with Wimbledon should go ahead following a Covid-19 outbreak.

The new Black Cats manager was without eight affected first-team players.

"That game should have been called off. No doubt in my mind," Johnson told BBC Radio Newcastle following a 1-1 draw.

The EFL said in a statement that it was Sunderland's decision not to call it off - but the club had felt "unclear".

"Throughout our extensive discussions on Tuesday, it was made clear to the management of Sunderland that the option existed for them to inform the league they were unable to fulfil the fixture," said the EFL's statement.

"But this would result in the circumstances being investigated as a result of the club being required to fulfil their fixture obligations in accordance with the regulations.

"This is consistent with the approach taken with other clubs who have been faced with similar situations and the requirement to self-isolate players and staff in line with EFL and government guidance."

Sunderland's north-east rivals Middlesbrough famously cancelled a game without permission at 24 hours' notice in 1997 following a flu epidemic affecting 23 players, leading to a two-point deduction that ultimately cost Bryan Robson's side their place in the Premier League.

Concerned about the prospect of a similar reprimand, Johnson felt forced to pick three players on Tuesday night - Jordan Willis, Lynden Gooch, Aiden O'Brien - who were all carrying injuries, as well as involving young players who had turned out for the club's under-23 side the previous day.

"We didn't get any help or clarity from the EFL," added Johnson. "The threat of sanction was too much to risk. They've let us down.

"Bristol Rovers cancelled a game in very similar circumstances. It was very unclear and very unhelpful from the EFL.

"Willis, Gooch and O'Brien shouldn't have been near the squad. They've been recovering from injuries.

"It was dangerous for two sets of players. The team was changing by the hour, in terms of being told I can't do that or this.

"I am not playing the victim. We played hard, no lack of effort. And I can't help but feel angry and frustrated but mainly I was so proud at the way the players put themselves above the parapet. They performed very well."

Analysis

BBC Sport's Simon Stone

Johnson's biggest complaint was the lack of guidance Sunderland were offered, amid fears they may have to close their training ground as Newcastle did two weeks ago.

However, the EFL says the decision to postpone the match was not theirs to make.

While the events around any postponement would have been investigated, this is routine procedure around any game that is called off and, if it was found the reasons for it were legitimate, there would have been no sanction.

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