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In Search Of The "Martin O'Neill Style" Forward

Could Yakubu be the much talked about "O'Neill" type forward?
Could Yakubu be the much talked about "O'Neill" type forward?

If there is one position that Martin O'Neill will be desperate to fill in the summer, it is the pesky centre forward spot in our team. Over recent years, we've seen the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Darren Bent, Djibril Cisse and Asamoah Gyan all stake a claim to call it their own, but leave the club under less than ideal circumstances.

While Nicklas Bendtner didn't set the world alight in his first few games at the Stadium of Light, and is still the target of a fair amount of abuse from Sunderland fans, it's difficult to argue that he hasn't done a good job for us up top this season, but he seems determined to be on his bike too.

So, the rumour mill is already in full swing as to what's going to happen in the summer, and we've already heard a lot about the apparent 'Martin O'Neill forward', but just who/what is the perfect frontman for our boss? Let's take a look...

After the Europa League semi finals last week, Martin O'Neill joked about the availability of Fernando Llorente. The frontman had just performed superbly for Athletic Bilbao, and put in the kind of performance that Sunderland have been desperate for this season, and are even more in need of next season, when Nicklas Bendtner disappears from our club.

However, it is probably fair to say that, despite our raising profile, Llorente may well be just out of our reach at the moment. We at Roker Report wondered then, who has O'Neill had in his successful teams in the past, and who is out there for us to look at signing in the summer?

Although it is bordering on cliche, it may be fair to say that O'Neill has always favoured a big man in his teams. Having earned his stripes at Wycombe and Norwich, it was Leicester City that thrust him in to the limelight, where he reached the final of the League Cup in 1997, 1999 and 2000, winning the competition in two of those years. Not only were the Foxes enjoying European football thanks to their cup heroics, but they also boasted a top ten finish in each of those years.

So who was it that fired Leicester to success? Was it a big man in the box? Yes. It was the much-maligned Emile Heskey, who bagged goals for the team on a regular basis. Although his reputation has suffered since, Heskey was paramount to the success of the team, feeding off the left-wing supply of Steve Guppy, with a creative midfield behind him and Tony Cottee as his partner.

As Sir Martin left Leicester and moved north of the border and took the reigns at Celtic, it was another big man, again looked down on in the eyes of England fans, that fired him to glory. A lot can be said about his time in Scotland, and he was hugely successful up there, winning three league titles, three Scottish cups and a League Cup. He also took the club into the revamped Champions League, and reached the final of the Uefa Cup in 2003.

Now, admittedly, Celtic was something of a one off in any manager's career. Alongside Chris Sutton, the afore-mentioned frontman that I was talking about, Henrik Larsson scored 35 goals in 38 games, bagging the European Show along the way. However, Sutton's influence, after a disappointing spell at Chelsea, couldn't be ignored, and with 63 goals in 130 games, it is unlikely that it will be.

But surely I'm not suggesting that we should sign Emile Heskey, am I? Well, no. I've done that before. If you go searching on the website to see what I came up with on that particular subject, and might be a little surprised by the outcome actually. So, who is out there that we should be looking at to fill the 'Martin O'Neill frontman' void?

First up, is a striker that every Sunderland fan has talked about in the past couple of weeks. A 6 ft 1 Scot who has scored almost 100 goals in his career so far. Starting out at Hibs, Steven Fletcher managed 52 goals for the club, earning him a club-record £3m transfer to Burnley as they made their debut in the Premier League. Notching another 12 there, as well as being the club's top scorer, and picking up player of the year, he moved to Wolves for £7m in 2010, and has continued his fine form there. Big, strong and not afraid to get in the box, as well as being a real threat in the air, Fletcher could be the perfect foil for the crossing of both McClean and Larsson, as well as the man required to put the finishing touches to Stephane Sessegnon's moments of magic. Although his apparent fee varies on whatever newspaper you happen to pick up in a morning, don't be surprised if the apparent £10m valuation that Wolves have 'slapped' on him is way off the mark, and he is available for a lot less. In my eyes, few are better suited to spearhead our attack next term.

If we are looking for a striker who doesn't do much apart from score goals, especially if we are looking at players who will be falling from the Premier League this season, as Fletcher is, another interesting prospect is Blackburn's chubber, Yakubu. With 166 goals to his name so far, the 6ft frontman, who surprisingly is still only 29, has scored goals wherever he has been during his career. Although he has, probably rightly, been labelled as lazy throughout his time in football, there is no denying that the powerful Nigerian knows where the goal is, and with Blackburn looking like they will be spending next season in the Championship, he may be an ideal signing for the Black Cats, as we search for someone to hang around the box and stick the ball in the net.

Of course there is a man out there that O'Neill is a fan of, who reminded us only at the weekend of the quality that he possesses, despite his advancing years, and that is Bolton veteran, Kevin Davies. Less of the 'fox in the box' type player that Yakubu and more of a battering ram, 'Big Kev' proved at the weekend that he still has more than enough in the tank to play at this level. Although he has a tendency to give away a lot of free kicks, his strength is unmeasurable, and he has been scoring goals in this division for many, many years. Although he isn't a long-term option, don't be surprised to see Martin do all that he can to make Davies a Sunderland player this summer. And, again, with Bolton threatened by relegation, it is almost certain that he would want to prove himself one last time in the Premier League.

And before we get too bogged down with options here, I bring you one final alternative.

You'll have to stick with me here, but I think I've found the perfect foil for Sess, McClean, Larsson and co. That man used to play at the Stadium of Light, he used to play in our famous red and white stripes, and he currently wears the same elsewhere. Folks, let's be honest, Kenwyne Jones would thrive in this current team. Big, strong, and now hopefully with something to prove thanks to an indifferent spell at Stoke in the last year or so, if we could get him hungry and putting 100% into every performance, then I think he could be a special spearhead at the club.

But, that's enough from me. Who do you think we should be looking to bring in? And more importantly, who will O'Neill spend his summer chasing?

Get voting on the poll below, and we'll gauge a bit of public opinion, shall we?

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