Could Danny Graham Still Have A Future On Wearside?

Scott Heavey

The notion might seem outrageous on the face of it, but Gus Poyet's system could be the making of Danny Graham's career at Sunderland, should the striker ever return.

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Perhaps two strikers struggling for goals and form are more than enough for Sunderland without the possibility of a third being brought back to join the party, but Gus Poyet could do worse than at least consider Danny Graham as an alternative to Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher.

It's unlikely to happen of course, particularly with the Gateshead born striker thought to be closing in on another loan move away from Wearside, this time to the Championship. Indeed, perhaps if he gets games and crucially goals after dropping down a division, it could well transform his career. There is a Premier League goal scorer in there somewhere, even if his record in the last twelve months makes a mockery of that suggestion.

Roll the clock back to the 2011/12 season and Danny Graham's maiden Premier League campaign with Swansea City and there is a bud of logic in the notion. Graham's career blossomed in that first season, where he carried a strike rate from the lower divisions of roughly one goal in every three games into the top flight with relative ease.

Nobody expected to see the then unheralded Graham perform so well - he managed 12 goals in 36 Premier League appearances - but then again, he was playing for the surprise package of the season in South Wales. Not only did the Swans finish the season comfortably in mid table after promotion, they did so playing a very distinct brand of passing, possession football.

This detail - the style of Swansea's play and the fact that Graham flourished playing as part of it - is crucial. Although Sunderland under Poyet are far from a carbon copy of Swansea under Rodgers, there are similarities; playing the ball out from the back, the splitting of the centre backs, full backs pushed high up the pitch and a desire to keep the ball from the opposition remains a hallmark of Swansea City now and is certainly something Poyet has tried to instil into his side here on Wearside.

Although Graham's chances were limited in Wales after Michael Laudrup took over, he still played his part in Swansea's run to the League Cup final and chipped in with three Premier League goals. On the face of it, three goals in 18 appearances looks a poor return in the league, but given the majority of them came from the bench, it is perhaps understandable. Laudrup was clearly not a fan of the former Watford man, but then again, he's also not a fan of Ki Sung Yueng.

Once Graham moved away from Swansea and their style of play his career really began to stagnate. His travails began under Martin O'Neill and then Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland, before a move to Steve Bruce's Hull City failed to inspire a recovery. He had the odd decent game in red and white - his performances in the victories over Newcastle and Everton spring to mind - but he was never cut out for the role O'Neill had earmarked for him.

Since moving to Hull he has managed just the one league goal and his confidence has continued to ebb away, playing for another side who have a propensity to get the ball wide and cross it. It would have been mad to suggest 6 months ago, but Sunderland would probably have benefitted more by keeping Graham, while Steven Fletcher would probably have been prolific at Hull had he moved there.

Fletcher is the traditional, recognised goal scorer, but he has always thrived on a particular type of service, often scoring headers or finishing instinctively with one touch. He has just three league goals this season and they have all been the result of him getting on the end of crossed balls, be it with his foot or head. Ultimately, under Poyet, that type of service is simply not going to be forthcoming on a regular basis. His contribution when he isn't scoring is negligible.

In fact, a quick comparison of Fletcher's record in 2011/12 shows it to be not too different to Graham's at Swansea. The Scotsman managed 12 goals in 32 appearances, playing in a side that attacked in a style that, in theory, should have gotten the best out of him. Although Wolves were a poor side and went down, they played some cavalier football and liked to get the ball wide and cross it allowing Fletcher to score plenty of headed goals.

At present, Poyet is rotating the Scottish international with American striker Jozy Altidore, another player who has strengths, which he shows flashes of, but most of which would be better suited to a different style of football. He has neither the technical ability - evidenced in his often dreadful first touch - or awareness, both tactical and in general on the pitch, to thrive under Poyet.

It might seem crazy to suggest Graham is technically and tactically superior to either, but his time at Swansea suggests he is certainly better suited to this type of football. Neither Fletcher or Altidore are particularly useful with their backs to goal, something Graham is, and it is a useful asset to have in a side that likes to keep the ball.

Graham could benefit from Poyet's man management skills, which certainly seem to be working wonders on Adam Johnson at present. Whether the crowd would take to him is another matter. There were voices of dissent before he did eventually come to the club and his record since signing would hardly win those fans over who have never been convinced by him and understandably so. With his confidence in front of goal so low, a return to the club now could break him completely.

A loan move to the Championship and a chance to rebuild that shattered confidence and start scoring goals again could be the making of Graham. If he is able to perform, perhaps Poyet will take another look at him in the summer. The potential for a career resurrection on Wearside is definitely there and if anyone can coax performances out of him, there a few better equipped to do so than Gus Poyet.

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