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How Pressing Is Sunderland's Summer Striker Need?

How many strikers do you throw at a goalscoring problem before you seek a solution elsewhere? That may be the question facing Sunderland this summer.

Mark Runnacles


Due to football's very nature, the strikers are without doubt the true glamour boys of the game. With everything geared towards that elixiral release of joy as the ball hits the net, they always will be.

When I was a youngster it was all about Marco Gabbiadini for Sunderland. He had thighs the size of Bournemouth and a turn of pace that could make just about any centre half look like a total mug. To this day, "Marco Goalo" remains an iconic red and white hero to a generation of fans.

Soon enough it was Kevin Phillips who had taken that mantle - without question the most complete player I have seen at the club. His finishing was brutal, but his movement, touch and leap were just as good in their own right, perhaps even better.

We seldom like to talk about him now, but Darren Bent was a real icon here for a while there. He didn't do much except score goals, but good lord could he score goals and he was loved for it before he decided to start acting like a total unremitting bellend.

And no matter how obsessed the game gets with tactics and statistics for just about everything, goals really are all that matters when it comes to strikers. It's not like with a full back where you can value a defensive skillset even if he doesn't contribute anything going forward, or appreciate a neat and tidy midfield player who retains the ball well even if there is no final product in his repertoire.

At Sunderland, especially given the temptation to try and airbrush Darren Bent from history, it seems like we have been searching for a goalscoring hero to hang our hat upon for years.

Every summer new pretenders have come to the club in eye-catching deals: Asamoah Gyan, Nicklas Bendtner, Steven Fletcher, Jozy Altidore... the collective value of those transfers alone amounts to more than £30m. None have really delivered. Gyan and Fletcher had okay first season, numbers wise, but nothing to get overly excited about.

This summer, you can't help but wonder if Sunderland will roll the dice again. For many fans, I suppose it would be a no-brainer. None of the current four on the books got anywhere near double figures in the Premier League, so find someone who can as a matter of necessity. Simple really. Job done.

Personally, I'm not sure that is the best way to go about getting more goals in the side. I might think it was if we were creating chance after chance and not putting them away, but that wasn't what was happening last season at all. Chances were hard to come by, so it's difficult to really judge how competent at taking them on a regular basis the strikers actually are.

You could argue, fairly, that perhaps that is indicative of a lack of quality intelligent movement from the man spearheading the attack. It plays a part, certainly.

However, I'd be more inclined to stick with what we have up front for another season. I'm not convinced that personnel is the problem there.

I'd much rather spend the money on the midfield and the flanks trying to ensure the quality is there to provide a steady stream of chances. Should that happen, I'm confident that Fletcher, Connor Wickham, and even Scocco and Altidore can convert enough of them to make a big difference.

Coaching obviously plays a huge part too, and I don't think it was a coincidence that more chances were being created at the end of the season when Gus Poyet's message was finally starting to be understood by his squad.

From around the Everton home game onwards, there were noticeable differences in the way the side was moving without the ball. Full backs were making their runs later to make sure they had options on the ball when it arrived at their feet, but also to create space and time for the man in possession. Central midfield players were breaking into the box with far more regularity and forcing defenders into making decisions rather than allowing them to almost ignore the ball so long as the solitary forward in the box was under wraps.

If that coaching can be continued over the summer - the understanding evolve - then Sunderland's quest for goalscoring strikers may not lie in the inflated transfer market.

Adding some craft and guile on the ball into the central midfield area who can unlock defences - Raul Meireles and Ever Banega have been suggested and both look ideal fits - would likely make a far greater impact than adding another Bent-like poacher. Similarly, some pace and penetration down the flanks would make a world of difference.

It may well be that Sunderland's strikers are just basically incurably rubbish. That's possible and with our luck wouldn't surprise anyone. We won't be in a position to make that judgement until we give them the benefit of playing in a creative side, though. Not in my opinion anyway. It may just be best to stick for once rather than twisting again.

It may not offer an especially glamourous summer, but for my money it would be the pragmatic way to approach what has become an annoyingly persistent problem.

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