As the January transfer window came to an end last week, many on Wearside felt a little disappointed by the clubs lack of activity on the final day. While Ahmed Elmohamady's return to Hull led many fans to hope a winger might arrive late in the day, no transfer was forthcoming, and Danny Graham remained the only last day purchase, joining Kader Mangane and Alfred N'Diaye as January's three new arrivals.
With Mangane and Graham adding some much needed cover in defence and attack, and N'Diaye giving the team the strength it has been lacking in the midfield over recent months, it would be hard to argue that this has not been a decent month of transfer activity for Sunderland. Yet for many fans, the final day of the window felt anti-climatic. Graham was effectively a replacement for strikers who has left already in January, and there were no additions to help with the side's lack of creativity, nor did O'Neill sign a much needed right-back. The defeat to Reading last weekend only intensified these feelings.
We can't exactly blame Sunderland fans for feeling this way. The January transfer window is almost designed to induce panic into even the most rational football supporter. Just take a look at Sky Sports' 150-mile an hour coverage of Transfer Deadline Day. We see Harry Redknapp being interviewed from his car window, presumably on his way to wave a briefcase full of cash in a footballers face. We watch as their clock ticks down, second by second, to zero, with the presenters telling us how long is left with the same intensity as a homeless man announcing the time of the apocalypse on a street corner. If we look hard enough, we can even see Bryan Swanson in the background, on his phone pretending to talk to somebody important. All this activity can make a football supporter ask themselves 'Why isn't my club taking a big part in all of this?'
However, Sunderland fans must maintain a sense of perspective. Traditionally, the January transfer window isn't the time for clubs to make huge additions, nor is it the time to build a squad. Ideally, this month should only be used to add a couple of extra options in needed positions. The exceptions to this rule in the recent window were Newcastle and QPR, but both of these clubs have genuine relegation fears, and needed good quality players to help them get out of their current predicaments. Sunderland have no such fears. With worries of relegation looking long gone, and a Europa League place seemingly out of reach, the club are destined for another season of mid-table mediocrity, and that would be the case regardless of if we had signed more players. Typically, because of the panicky nature of the winter transfer market, players are often sold for extortionate fees. It is far more sensible for O'Neill to wait until the summer, where better value can be found and where it might be more possible to do a deal for a player such as Aiden McGeady.
This isn't to say that the team doesn't have gaps in it, and it certainly needs improving, but the club is in no rush to buy. The supporters need to be patient and remember that Sunderland remain a work in progress. O'Neill is still trying to get rid of a lot of the deadwood left behind his predecessor, and it's better to go about our business steadily than be reckless and overspend. The January window can also lead to teams panic-buying players just to have numbers in the squad. I think most fans would agree that it's better to buy no-one than end up lumbered with the likes of Tal Ben Haim, Benjani and Kyrgiakos for the rest of the season.
While Niall Quinn's talk of a 'magic carpet ride' and 'Europe in five years' sounded nice all that time ago, the truth is that football doesn't work like that. The club must continue to build steadily. Survival this year would make the current spell our longest in the top division since our very first relegation in 1958 and from there we can look to push towards a top-10 finish and the possibility of European football. The signings we've made over the last month all add something to the squad, and it's certainly a stronger one than it was this time last month. Sunderland, slowly and steadily, are going places, which is why we mustn't allow ourselves to buy into the mass-hysteria of Sky Sports News.