Simon Grayson must have known he was walking into a difficult job when taking the job this summer, and because of that I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. He must have read about our financial malaise; he must have read about the players seemingly giving up the ghost, and he must have seen just how awful we were at times last season. Yet he still took the job saying:
I am delighted to come to Sunderland, a club with such wonderful history and tradition, and I’m excited by the opportunity to manage this club and I want to bring the good times back.
Of course there is the chance Grayson is merely towing the party line with those words, yet his general demeanor and attitude towards football has me believing in his talents and ability.
The sale of Jordan Pickford for around £25-30 million early in the window had fans hoping that Grayson would have a canny kitty to play with ahead of what we all knew would be a difficult season. However, over two months have passed since then and we’ve spent but a small fraction of that major sale on new players. In fact we’ve spent less than £2 million in total on three loan deals, a free transfer, and three players signed for relative buttons.
That’s not to say the players purchased aren’t good enough: Ruiter, Browning, McGeady and Grabban all look excellent additions to the side. The issue is that Sunderland have also released twelve players in that time - and now our squad looks incredibly thin.
As of now we have a squad of twenty-six first team players. Of that twenty-six, a good six of those players are perhaps lacking the quality to really make a difference at this level (that’s being conservative), and a further three are subject to transfer speculation on an almost daily basis.
That leaves a squad of about seventeen able bodies - not all of whom are particularly gifted footballers - and that worries me.
It worries me because the transfer window shuts in less than a week. We have less than 100 hours to strengthen our squad significantly if we are to challenge for promotion in any way, shape, or form this season.
Grayson might be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat in terms of securing quality signings, but it will be a tough ask. The man in charge does have previous in terms of signing cheap players and developing them into solid Championship players:
I have not had loads of money to spend. I left Preston by spending just over £1m and that squad is worth more than £20m now. That’s what I try to do. Recruit and then improve on the training pitch. That’s what I will try to do here.
The issue is that Grayson just hasn’t been backed enough so far by the club’s hierarchy in order to find success. Hence, we have a decent squad with little in the way of quality reinforcements.
So far this season Sunderland gave employed a 4-4-2 in their league games, and early doors the system looked really impressive. Cattermole and Ndong looked more than capable of holding down the centre of midfield whilst Honeyman and McGeady provided creativity from out wide. Up front, Vaughan and Grabban looked dangerous and caused defences a lot of problems.
The issue is, however, that a 4-4-2 is quite simple to play against - especially if your creativity comes from out wide.
Both Leeds and Barnsley played with a three man central midfield, and that extra presence in place of a striker enabled them to nullify the threats of McGeady and Honeyman by simply doubling up on Sunderland’s widemen. Factor into the equation that our full-backs really don’t offer enough going forward in order to support the wide midfielders, and straight away we’ve lost our most potent attacking force.
To add insult to injury, both Cattermole and Ndong aren’t exactly blessed with flair, vision or creativity, and they struggle to add another dimension to the Sunderland attack.
Ideally if your 4-4-2 isn’t functioning you sacrifice a striker and add an offensive midfielder who offers a creative outlet in the middle of the park whilst also being able to track back and add another body in the middle of the pitch. Gibson isn’t dynamic enough, Khazri doesn’t seem up for the season ahead, and Gooch is still raw. We just don’t have anybody to fill the role. We could even accommodate them in a central two if we really had to, but again we just don’t have a creative central midfielder.
We are also desperate for a speedy, wily striker who will have the pace and movements to stretch defence; Maja looked good before his injury, but Asoro just doesn’t look experienced enough. It’s clear to see that Grayson simply doesn’t have enough options to really alter his tactical approach. Either plan A works, or it doesn’t and we just graft in the hope that it’s enough. Unfortunately, that just won’t cut the mustard in the Championship.
Ellis Short and Martin Bain simply have to free up funds this week if they want a fighting chance at success this season. Simon Grayson has noted we’re “vulnerable” to losing players this week, and if we aren’t active in strengthening this side then we could face an uphill struggle as side after side comes prepared to combat our style of play.
We need quality reinforcements, and we’re walking a tightrope as to whether we’ll get them.