SUNDERLAND have been dealt a "crushing" injury blow ahead of their Sky Bet Championship play-off push, with York-born ace Jack Clarke set for a spell on the sidelines.

The 23-year-old winger suffered an ankle ligament injury in the Black Cats’ 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City on February 17, with scans now revealing he is likely to be out of action for up to six weeks.

Clarke is Sunderland’s top scorer this term, contributing 15 goals and a handful of assists for Mike Dodds’ side.

He will now undergo a period of rehabilitation ahead of an expected return to training in April.

The former Archbishop Holgate’s pupil has been the subject of a myriad of transfer interest over recent months, with Premier League clubs including West Ham and Brentford among those vying for his signature.

Sunderland also reportedly turned down a second bid of £14 million from Italian giants Lazio for Clarke during the January transfer window. It is believed that the club value the winger at £20 million.

The Black Cats currently sit 10th, five points off the play-offs, ahead of Saturday’s tricky trip to Norwich.

Speaking to our sister title The Northern Echo, Dodds described Clarke's injury as a "crushing blow" for his side.

“He played 90 minutes at Birmingham and rolled his ankle in the game," the Sunderland boss explained. "When I spoke to him the plan was to train later on in the week, but the swelling just didn’t come down.

“Jack was upbeat, and the feedback was semi-positive, but it came to early in the week and the rate of progress wasn’t what we expected or hoped so we made a decision for him to go and see a specialist on Wednesday morning to find out what was going on and the feedback is the feedback, which is a crushing blow.

“But at the same time, I’ve got to control the controllable's and it’s something now for the next six weeks that won’t be in my head or in my thoughts.

"Like I’ve said a thousand times, it’s not just a blow for us, Jack Clarke would be a massive blow for any team in this league."