Matter Of Urgency: A central defender. Not just any mind you, one who can be physically imposing and read the game very well. In fact, I wouldn't be adverse to spending big on a defender who will be the leader of that unit for years to come. With John O'Shea and Carlos Cuellar both the wrong side of thirty and Matt Kilgallon and Titus Bramble being far from what we need, it's time to start remodeling our back line with a commanding young player who will be here for the foreseeable future.
Almost As Important: A box-to-box midfielder. Someone with all the physical attributes of a Yaya Toure or Patrick Vieira to get backwards and forwards and be a danger on the attacking front and a solid helper for the defence. There must be some about somewhere who can allow Lee Cattermole to sit and do what he does best in front of the defence, and do that only.
Would Also Be Nice: A right back. I'm a big fan of Craig Gardner in the position but I don't think Martin O'Neill is, nor the player himself. If it's going to be the case that Gardner is never more than a fill-in player at the position then we need a new one as Phil Bardsley is never going to be the answer there. I'm not even bothered particularly who. A right-sided equivalent of Danny Rose would be nice though.
Matter Of Urgency: A centre back, without question. The clamor seems to be for the midfield but I think there is a rot that needs to be stopped before we look at anything else. It doesn't matter who is brought in further forward if the holes at the back are not plugged because keep on committing the kind of errors our defenders have been guilty of lately and you won't be winning many games regardless.
Almost As Important: A brute in midfield. I don't subscribe to the theory that a playmaker is needed. With McClean, Sessegnon, and Johnson in the side, chances WILL be created. We just need some presence in the midfield to stomp around menacingly, allowing the defence to push up and the attacking players receive possession further up the pitch.
Would Also Be Nice: Some competition on the flanks. It would just be typical Sunderland to finally get some spine in the side only to then lose one of the big attacking players to injury. With that in mind, a quality addition on the flanks would be a nice safety net. Preferably one who can play either side.
Matter Of Urgency: As recent performances have proven, a central defender is absolutely essential. Without O'Shea's experience and leadership in our back line the defense seems to fall to pieces at present. In fact I believe this could well be an area of the side which requires significant investment not just over the coming weeks but over the summer break as well. It is becoming seemingly more likely that we will not see Wes Brown in a red and white shirt for quite some time, or if you're a pessimist ever again and the likes of Kilgallon and Bramble just not up to scratch, so the addition of a dependable, reliable and commanding central defender must be high up our list of priorities.
Almost As Important: A central midfield tank. I agree with Michael that we have other players in more key positions such as McClean, Johnson and Sessegnon than we should be able to rely on to create the chances for our forward(s). What we are missing is a real animal in the middle of the park, someone with a great engine to allow them to cover as much of the park as possible, breaking up the play and generally imposing themselves upon the game.
Would Also Be Nice: A left sided midfielder/winger. While we are now beginning to see McClean put in the kind of performances that we know he is capable I still believe that some competition for this position would be hugely beneficial. Currently McClean can rest, safe in the knowledge that his place in the side is safe because not only because he is he the favoured option at present but because in reality he is the only option. Add some serious competition for that spot and we could really reap the benefits.
Matter Of Urgency: I fear that we may all be coming across as something of a broken record, but it goes without saying that we need a commanding centre back in the team. Following Cuellar's recent performances, and the sub-standard offerings that we've come to expect from Kilgallon and Bramble mean that someone who can command a presence at the back, and marshall the defence alongside John O'Shea. He doesn't have to be quick, just actually be able to read the game.
Almost As Important: A box-to-box midfielder. They are the type of player that I've always enjoyed watching (probably since about the time I realised that I was too fat to ever play the role myself), and it would provide us with the perfect link between Cattermole and Sessegnon in our midfield. With Catts available to just look after the back four, and Sess hanging off of the frontman, a mobile man in midfield would be ideal.
Would Also Be Nice: Can I have another centre back? I imagine not, so will have to plump for another body up front. I certainly wouldn't want to stunt any progress that Connor Wickham is/is going to make, but both him and Fletcher have had more than their share of injury problems in the past, Campbell doesn't make the grade and will probably be gone soon, and the less we say about Louis Saha, the better.
Matter Of Urgency: Quite obviously a midfielder, and a dominant one at that. It's all well and good bemoaning our central defence for making a ton of mistakes, but it must be remembered that they're under pressure from the off because the midfield in front of them is too weak to protect them. A dominant, box-to-box midfielder is an absolute necessity; one that can grab the game by the scruff of the neck, but also chip in with a few goals here and there too.
Almost As Important: That said, centre back should be next on the list. Not just any old centre back either - we need one with pace. A common critique of this side is that it plays too deep at times, and a pace-laden centre back would eradicate this worry. A decent defender, who can play the ball with comfort, that possesses some element of speed would allow Sunderland to push up the field, aiding the central midfielders and becoming a more attack-minded side.
Would Also Be Nice: A right full-back. Phil Bardsley isn't up to the task, Craig Gardner is a solid defender when played here but struggles to align that with getting beyond Adam Johnson in front of him. The ideal solution would if Sunderland could find a right back of the Danny Rose ilk, one who is strong defensively but also happy to get forward and increase the side's attacking options.
Matter Of Urgency:A presence in the midfield. I do not mean that in the 'bruising' fashion, but someone confident enough in his abilities that a key area of the pitch is no longer left to chance. Lee Cattermole is not the biggest, but feeling accomplished in the way of winning the ball and retaining the team's shape is reassuring.
The fact that none of our current midfield options are particularly tall does lend itself to the idea that any new recruit should be an unpolished Yaya Toure, but all is required is someone willing and able to be proactive in the midfield.
Almost As Important: Pace in the wide areas, and I do not mean Fraizer Campbell. It was a problem I was Concerned about when we did this in the summer, that Sunderland does not have an outlet to become someone on the bench that can take the pressure off, or things to really make a team should be going our way to share . It is also an issue Martin O'Neill is well aware of.
At present, the alternative is the almost-anonymous James McFadden out wide, and with his short-term deal wearing thin, perhaps it gives us the opportunity to arm ourselves with someone quick of foot - and of mind - to take advantage of the tiring defences .
Would Also Be Nice: A durable center-half that has the making of becoming O'Neill's most trusted for years to come. We may have to wait until the summer for that though.