With relegation to League One now officially confirmed, Chris Coleman has seemingly already started the job of finding recruits capable of plugging the gaps due to be left by many of the first team squad departing Wearside this summer.
A source close to Roker Report has revealed that Burton Albion centre-back Tom Naylor could be one of the first bodies through the door, with a free transfer move from the fellow relegation-strugglers edging closer to an agreement.
Although Naylor is not a household name, he has certainly proved a dependable member of Nigel Clough’s squad across his three seasons at the Pirelli Stadium since moving from midlands neighbours Derby County.
The 26-year old former Mansfield Town defender can play in a number of positions across the back line as well as in defensive midfield. However, Naylor has mainly played at centre-back for the Staffordshire outfit, appearing for them on 31 occasions this term.
Naylor, then in his teens, came to prominence during a successful loan period playing at lower league Belper Town as a right back, with his form grabbing the attention of Nigel Clough - then manager of Derby County - who took him on an initial loan, before signing him permanently in the summer 2012.
Before his move to the Rams he was also subject of two rejected bids from Fulham - who were then in the Premier League - and also Charlton. Following the departure of Clough, however, the versatile defender found game time hard to come by, and took in loan spells at Bradford City, Newport and Cambridge United. It wasn’t until his former manager took the reigns at Burton that he found a permanent home, helping his side to double promotions from League Two and League One respectively after joining for nothing following a successful loan spell in 2015.
Unlike ourselves, his current club’s league status is still uncertain after Burton gave themselves a fighting chance of survival with a comeback on Saturday that condemned us to a second successive relegation.
As for Naylor though, that uncertainty is the potential reason why he hasn’t been handed a new contract at his current club yet - and there are strong claims that we are ready to pounce.
With the futures of Lamine Kone and John O’Shea very much unknown, central defence will most definitely be a position that the former Wales boss will be keen to address as he looks to mould the spine of his new-look team going into League One.
Outside of the aforementioned Kone and O’Shea, there are only the likes of Marc Wilson, Tyias Browning and Jake Clarke-Salter capable of performing at centre half from the current crop - and none of them will be here come June, so new recruits at the heart of the defence will be a priority.
It’s not a name to set the pulse racing, but as the reality hits that we will be playing third tier football next season, there has to be hope that the men in control of the club have recognised the Burton man has the right mentality to succeed in the North East.