Sunderland's impressive start to the season has suffered a considerable setback with the news that key midfielder Lee Cattermole will be sidelined for at least three months due to injury.
Cattermole, 21, suffered a knee injury during Saturday's 1-0 victory over Liverpool and was stretchered off, immediately raising fears over his condition.
Now Steve Bruce has confirmed that Cattermole will not be seen in action for the next 12 weeks at least, putting his earliest return date at around mid January. However the Sunderland manager is relieved that the damage is not more extensive.
Bruce told the Sunderland Echo: "We think it will be at least 12 weeks for Catts. He's done his medial ligament. It's not good news, but it's the best we could have hoped.
"We were all praying he had not done his cruciate and damaged cartilage, which thankfully he hasn't - but he's still out for the best part of three months."
Cattermole joined Steve Bruce in moving from Wigan to Sunderland over the summer, for a fee of £6 million, and has impressed the Wearside public with a series of commanding performances alongside captain Lorik Cana.
News of his injury is a cruel blow to a Sunderland side that has collected 16 points from their opening nine games to occupy seventh place in the Premier League table.
However, Kenwyne Jones could return from an ankle injury in time to face Birmingham on Saturday. Bruce added: "We don't think Kenwyne is too bad. He has swelling on his ankle and will be touch and go for the weekend, but he could be okay."