Sunderland winger Adam Johnson is a doubt for the Boxing Day clash with former club Manchester City.
The England international limped out of Saturday's 1-0 Barclays Premier League victory at Southampton with a dead leg, while fellow midfielder Sebastian Larsson has a knee problem, although manager Martin O'Neill is hoping both will make the game.
Skipper Lee Cattermole (knee) remains on the long-term casualty list along with defender Wes Brown (also knee), but David Meyler has been recalled from his loan spell at Hull to bolster O'Neill's midfield resources.
The Ulsterman was in positive mood as he drew up his blueprint for a game which last season presented him with one of his most memorable days in the job to date.
It was New Year's Day when Roberto Mancini's all-stars arrived on Wearside, but left empty-handed after substitute Ji Dong-won's injury-time strike condemned them to a 1-0 defeat for the second successive season.
The win was all the more remarkable as keeper Simon Mignolet, who was planning to watch the game from the stands with his parents, was drafted into the starting line-up after Keiren Westwood was taken ill, while midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback were pressed into service as emergency full-backs amid an injury crisis.
O'Neill said: ``It was a terrific win. There was a lot of character shown that day.
``I know these are over-used words in the game, but that was very important for us because Manchester City at any given stage in that match or in any game, can rip you apart.
``We conjured it from somewhere. Ji's goal was greeted with an enormous roar, which I shan't forget, and for us to win on the opening day of the calendar year gave us a big boost.''
City captain Vincent Kompany (groin) could return in defence.
Striker Mario Balotelli (illness) could also come back into contention while left-backs Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy will hope to overcome niggles.
Forward Samir Nasri is out with a hamstring injury while right-back Micah Richards (knee) and midfielder Jack Rodwell (hamstring) remain on the long-term casualty list.
Youngster Matija Nastasic is relishing his first taste of England's traditionally busy Christmas fixture schedule.
The 19-year-old centre-back, who has made a big impression since his arrival from Fiorentina in August, is unfazed by the prospect of playing five games in the space of 15 days.
He is also far from concerned by the fact the next two of those matches, at Sunderland and then Norwich next Saturday, will involve lengthy journeys.
``To me it is not a problem,'' said the Serbia international. ``I am always happy when I am playing, so this time of the season makes me happiest of all!
``My father and mother are here, so I won't miss my family.
``I don't look at the two long away trips as a problem at all.
``Now we concentrate on the Sunderland game, and then we focus on Norwich - it's not a headache.
``The league in Italy stops, and we have a break, but playing here is no problem for me. I am looking forward to the next couple of games.``