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James Vaughan signs for Sunderland; will he be any good in the Championship? A Bury fan’s view

Sunderland have confirmed the signing of former Everton forward James Vaughan from League One side Bury. But what are we getting and will he be able to step up into the Championship? Roker Report sought the views of Peter Taylor from Shakers’ site ‘Bury Me In Exile’ to get the lowdown on the ex-England U21 international.

Everton v Sunderland - Premier League
James Vaughan of Everton battles with John Mensah of Sunderland 
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RR: So, James Vaughan. It’s fair to say that Sunderland fans seem pretty split on whether or not this is a sensible piece of transfer business. What would you say to those that are doubting what Vaughan could bring to our club?

PT: James Vaughan has just had his best ever season in terms of both his fitness and his goal tally by quite some distance. Yes, he has struggled for consistency previously in the second tier but his confidence will have been boosted significantly by his performance in 2016/2017.

If Vaughan was being 'sold' by Grayson to the fans as the panacea/main man to lead their forward line, I could understand the doubts and grievances more. However, this isn't how it has come across so far in the media and I'm sure he'll have other irons in the fire.

Northampton Town v Bury - Sky Bet League One
James Vaughan playing for Bury last season
Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

RR: Vaughan is perhaps best known for his spell as a youth at Everton, but he’s had somewhat of a career resurgence since arriving at Bury. Just how good has he been for your club?

PT: I think it's reasonable to say that I had some... what I would call 'healthy scepticism' when his signing was announced, chiefly because of his horrific injury record. I hadn't seen many doubt his natural footballing ability but more so his opportunities to be a consistent force in the team in the face of persistent lay-off periods. If you also couple that with in my twenty three years of watching Bury, being witness to many players (especially forwards) arrive with relatively big reputations and for one reason or another, it didn't work out. There was a protracted period of time where Gigg Lane was something of a strikers' graveyard! That perception has changed in more recent years and Leon Clarke in the season before Vaughan had undergone a distinctly similar career trajectory, only to redeem himself in a white shirt and earn a move to Sheffield United, with whom he'll be gracing the Championship in 2017/2018.

A debut goal for Vaughan certainly helped ease some fears (although David Healy had managed that and then done precisely zero after that) and the only significant spell where he didn't score was when target man Tom Pope was out injured with two broken ribs. Then-manager David Flitcroft's tactical setup was completely geared to Pope's inclusion. His hold-up play and strength helped create space behind the defence for Vaughan to run into and score so many goals. He ended up second top goalscorer in League One behind Billy Sharp in what was ostensibly a struggling side and he achieved that feat with around half the shots that Sharp was afforded by his much more consistently creative teammates and even had a better goals-to-minutes ratio. That isn't to say I believe he's actually a better footballer than Sharp but Vaughan had to carry the scoring burden for Bury much more heavily. He's definitely been the best striker I've seen in a Bury shirt and not just because of his goals.

Bury v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One
Vaughan in action against Northampton last season
Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

RR: What sort of problem do you think Vaughan leaving will cause for Bury?

PT: Depends if (or more importantly how) he's 'replaced'. Manager Lee Clark, adored by Sunderland fans the world over, has been very clear that his side will setup in a high-tempo, high-press 4-4-2 shape. He signed Jermaine Beckford to partner Vaughan and the pair have played together before at Huddersfield. The problem is that their attributes and play styles are very similar; to use Football Manager parlance, they are both 'advanced forwards' who will look at all times to play on the shoulder of the last defender, as well as operate in the same spaces and together, these elements potentially mean that their movements become predictable to more savvy managers and can be nullified by well-drilled backlines. I'd like to see a different kind of striker to replace him, perhaps someone who's more comfortable linking up play between midfield and attack (like Erhun Öztumer at Walsall for example). The other options in the squad are relatively young and untried and the most prominent of these, 18 year-old George Miller, is also the subject of intense interest from Middlesbrough at the time of writing.

Vaughan's goals wouldn't be easy to replace without either a gamble on a 'broken toy', like both he and Leon Clarke were, or someone who had a very good season in League One (or perhaps the SPFL) last season and the outlay to secure such a player probably wouldn't be far off Vaughan's transfer fee.

RR: Vaughan’s record with Huddersfield and Birmingham prior to arriving at Bury doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Do you have any doubts that Vaughan would be able to score regularly in the Championship for Sunderland?

PT: Of course. Every signing that every single football club makes is a gamble below the very elite players in the sport today. If you really look at Vaughan's record at Birmingham, you'll see that he didn't score once in 775 minutes of football in 2015/2016 and a League Cup game in 2016/2017 before moving to Bury. However, that's still less than the equivalent of nine whole matches and I would again go back to his injury record and also not being afforded a sustained run in the side to break that duck.

For Huddersfield, I think he did okay overall actually. 33 goals in 91 total appearances in the second tier is a more than serviceable record for a striker (as long as the team aren't wholly reliant on him to score, of course). As I said before, Sunderland will need to bring three or possibly four different options to the club. Vaughan is a viable option and he would work very hard to get the fans on his side. A lot of fans these days of any team are way too quick to harshly judge a player if they don't produce immediately... and even sometimes when they do and do it pretty consistently (Romelu Lukaku being a very high-profile example).

I think Vaughan can score regularly for the Black Cats but he will need both patience from the fans and coaching staff if the move transpires - it will take time for him to acclimatise back to second tier football in completely new surroundings, tactics and with teammates he's mostly unfamiliar with - never underestimate how much little things off-the-pitch can affect a player if they're not comfortable. They're only human after all.

RR: Simon Grayson has worked previously with Vaughan so you’d expect that he knows exactly what he’ll bring. How important do you think it will be to this working out that Vaughan already has a good relationship with the manager?

PT: I think it helps buy him precious time if he doesn't hit the ground running. Vaughan's best spell in the Championship at Huddersfield coincided with Grayson being at the helm, so whilst that was five seasons ago, he will have grown as a player and a person since then, which can only help the manager if they rekindle their good working relationship.

Preston North End v AFC Bournemouth - Capital One Cup Third Round
Simon Grayson as Preston boss in 2015
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The important thing to remember about Grayson is that Sunderland have tasked him with working on a tight budget; he made a big success of this at Preston and after the failed attempt to prise Derek McInnes from Aberdeen, he was the next logical choice.

He won't break the bank to get Vaughan or anyone else but perhaps more importantly, he can conjure performances that exceed fans' perceptions of players previously written off by other clubs (or even their current one under an earlier regime). I'd feel reasonably confident as a Sunderland fan that the rapport they share will reap dividends on the pitch.

RR: What sort of striker is Vaughan?

PT: He's the most complete striker I've seen in a Bury shirt. I realise that even me saying that could draw derision from some of your readers ("it's only Bury!"), but I have seen some relatively big names don the white and royal blue - David Nugent, Colin Kazim-Richards, Leon Clarke, David Johnson and Ryan Lowe; but for me, he's better than any of them.

Yes, he excels at playing on the last shoulder as I said before but there's much more to him than that; he's quick, a good dribbler, accurate when shooting with his weaker left foot, strong, quite good at holding up the ball if necessary, a force to be reckoned with in the air, capable of the spectacular and he shoots (and scores) from a wide variety of positions, which augurs well if he does move to Sunderland as he can operate well with both little and plenty of space.

Northampton Town v Bury - Sky Bet League One
Vaughan shoots at goal in the game between Northampton and Bury last October
Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

RR: What would you say are his greatest strengths as a footballer?

PT: In addition to the above, his work rate. It's more than just playing to instructions. He will harry and press a defender every step of the way to regain possession (I suggest checking out his first goal against MK Dons last season on YouTube for proof of that) and he won't just give up if the ball is played successfully past him. In other words, the effort he exudes on the pitch goes a long way to gaining the trust and respect from the fans. Obviously, the goals help but they're still not everything a footballer should be, even a striker like him. He's also very charismatic and talkative on and off the pitch and from listening and watching interviews with teammates, he's someone they admire and/or look up to if they're younger than he is. Those qualities can help bring the best out of a team.

RR: And, if any, his weaknesses?

PT: Two minor quibbles. Firstly, I wouldn't expect him to fashion too many chances for teammates. He is capable of doing so but like most prolific goalscorers, he'll usually opt to shoot himself if he feels he has a chance of scoring. How much of an issue that is will depend on the eventual tactical setup Grayson employs.

The second one is a certain petulant streak that comes out when things aren't going his way. This led to one red and seven yellows in 2016/2017, all of which were deserved and much higher than you'd expect a striker to receive. This is something he needs to iron out or hide as it will prove costly in tight encounters Sunderland need something out of or if they need to regain a foothold in the game.

Leicester City v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship
Vaughan sent off whilst playing for Huddersfield in 2013
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

RR: Do you feel it was an acceptable fee & any final thoughts on Sunderland and Simon Grayson?

PT: I would say that some Sunderland fans have to face the stark reality that they're in the Championship and with the uncertainty surrounding the club's ownership, plus the inevitable constraints on the transfer and wage budgets that Simon Grayson has to work with after years of financial mismanagement at the Stadium of Light (even when you take into consideration the fee received for Jordan Pickford and parachute payments), it is going to be extremely challenging for the Black Cats to bounce back to the Premier League at the first opportunity. The many departures in the close season to date have left gaping holes in the squad, especially up front.

It's hard to say with any real certainty. Lots of fans band about figures and often compare apples with oranges when doing so. Vaughan had one year left on his contract and he's at his peak age as a striker, having just enjoyed the best season of his career so far. The first element helped to push down the fee significantly.

Sunderland need to avoid what Aston Villa did last season and sign player after player right up to the end of the transfer window and again in January. Grayson has a big rebuilding job to do, both in personnel and the mentality around the club, which has been on a downward spiral for years. He must complete this turnaround quickly to have a chance of succeeding at the first time of asking.

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