We may have signed four new central defenders in the summer, but I would argue only two of them have been effective signings who we can rely on throughout this season.
And whilst it may seem a little early to be so cocksure of this, I feel that if Sunderland want to push on and win automatic promotion from League One it is of paramount importance that we sign another central defender in the January transfer window.
So far this season Sunderland have only faced defeat once but have played out far too many draws, mainly due to the fact we have only kept 1 clean sheet in 12 league games. We have conceded more goals than Bristol Rovers who are 21st, relying heavily on the fantastic form of Josh Maja, which has saw the team average two goals per game.
But, before I scrutinise the form our current batch of central defenders, it would only be fair to acknowledge that it was a difficult summer transfer window for Jack Ross and his recruitment team.
The focus was always going to be on getting rid of high earners and convincing our best young players to stay at the club. Moving on the likes of John O’Shea, Lamine Kone, Papy Djilobodji and Marc Wilson was essential, but it did leave a pretty huge void in our our squad that was always going to be problematic to sort out immediately, and whilst we needed to replace bodies we knew it would be difficult to perfect our recruitment for that position.
What we were left with was a limited budget, with the only money spent on that position being the £200k paid to Peterborough for their captain, Jack Baldwin. Glenn Loovens, Tom Flanagan and Alim Ozturk were all free transfers - an indication that we were prepared to take a risk in that position with one eye on improving further in the future.
You could probably guess, but the two central defenders I feel have been effective signings so far this season are Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan.
Having persuaded him to depart from The Posh, Baldwin appears to be one of the first names on the teamsheet and has started every game following his debut.
Admittedly, he has made the odd error, but I do believe he often suffers from the lack of defensive quality around him. The 25-year-old is composed on the ball, often showing his class when playing out from the back, and has the speed to cope with playing a high line.
As well as that, I feel Baldwin could advance with Sunderland if we were to be promoted, playing a part in the club’s project going forward.
Having missed the start of the season, Tom Flanagan has been a welcome addition to squad through his positional flexibility. At 6’2, the recently-recalled Northern Ireland international can play anywhere across the back four.
He looks the perfect fit at right centre half in Ross’ preferred 3-5-2 system, appearing much more comfortable than Adam Matthews, for example, who has struggled when asked to play in that role. Signed on a free transfer from Burton Albion, Flanagan looks an excellent piece of business adding both experience and depth.
Onto the strugglers, the first being Glenn Loovens. The Dutchman, who turned 35 last month, does provide our side with a wealth of professional experience from a career where he played hundreds of games in the Championship, international football with Holland and in the Champions League for Celtic, but he is criminally slow and looks like he will only get worse.
He adds much needed height to the team but as we have seen several times so far this season against a forward with a bit skill and speed he just cannot cope. I do think Loovens can be a valuable member of the squad, but maybe only as cover or in games where we need a third defender.
The first signing of the Stewart Donald era, Alim Ozturk, was never really intended to be a first team regular but you cannot ignore the fact that he puts the fear of god into supporters whenever he’s on he pitch.
Handed the number 5 shirt and coming into his prime years as a footballer, the former Hearts defender has been largely disappointing and has only really looked effective when up against tall, slow forwards where he’s required to get into aerial battles with them.
His debut against Charlton was poor and that was followed by his horrific error against Sheffield Wednesday which arguably lost us the game. Another who is criminally slow, Ozturk is very poor on the ball and has quickly fell out of favour under Jack Ross having started just two league games.
Going forward in League One, I would like to see Sunderland become a much tighter defensive unit. We need to finish games with clean sheets and cut out the silly mistakes that have been costing us points. I would love to see us make a statement signing in January, bringing on board a dominant centre half in his twenties who is good in air but also comfortable playing out from the back.
This sort of transfer could only benefit Sunderland and would enhance our chances of lifting the League One trophy at the end of the season - and I’m sure that we can all agree that we’d be happy to see that, provided of course the club have the money available so that we can make some adjustments once January rolls around.