AS the absences start to mount, Phil Parkinson is steeling himself for a run-in, hoping his fresher stars can become leading lights.

An ankle-ligament injury to Josh Vela, coupled with Mark Little serving the first of a three-game ban for his dismissal at QPR, means the Wanderers manager is shuffling his pack for tonight’s crunch clash at home to relegation-battle rivals Sunderland.

Neither side goes into the game especially buoyant, with the Whites losing their last two games and Chris Coleman’s men having taken one point from the last 12. But Parkinson is confident those joining the fray for the hosts can play their part.

“Obviously two players go out and we’ve got to look at the system now,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the change of personnel, for many reasons, obviously we have injuries so we do need to look to freshen the team up.

“We’ve got options, that’s why we brought players in before the deadline, to make sure when we do pick up injuries and suspensions, we’ve got cover. The other players stepping up have been great.

“Josh has damaged his ankle ligaments, we don’t really know the extent of it yet, we’ll wait until the swelling has gone down over the next 24 hours but obviously there is a significant injury and we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that it’s not too bad.”

A number of niggles for Aaron Wilbraham, Will Buckley and Craig Noone are easing and competition for places does exist at the Macron, not least in replacing Little, where Filipe Morais and Liverpool loanee Jon Flanagan are the main contenders to deputise.

Parkinson is also mulling over the possibility of Darren Pratley returning after his own injury, a fractured fibula. But, although he would love his captain to come in and recreate the impact he had as a returning hero at Fleetwood last season, the boss is wary of the midfielder – out of action since New Year’s Day – rejoining the action too soon.

“Darren is progressing well but it’s a difficult one with him, because he’s been out for six or seven weeks now,” added Parkinson. “We want to make sure that when he comes back he’s ready to play a sustained part in the remainder of the season.”