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OPINION: Sunderland DESPERATELY need big, athletic reinforcements if they’re to achieve anything

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If there’s one thing we can take from what we’ve seen so far in pre-season it is that Sunderland are desperately lacking in height and physicality - failing to recruit a number of athletic players would be a huge mistake.

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland, Grimsby
Gooch leading the Lads to a victory at Grimsby, but physicality is an absolute must.
Sunderland AFC

It’s almost universally acknowledged that pre-season shouldn't be taken too seriously. It’s also widely accepted that Sunderland are in the infancy of their vast re-modelling project.

However, after achieving mixed results so far in pre-season, surely the Sunderland hierarchy and management see that quality, athletic reinforcements are desperately required.

Sunderland’s business thus far has been a mixed bag to say the least. Free transfers have bolstered the ranks, but moving forward the club are in dire need of players that can make a real difference on the pitch. Lethargic performances of late could well be down to early season rustiness, but any spectator casting an eye over the Sunderland squad right now can see something sorely lacking from the team: sheer athleticism and power.

Of course, this is all speculation until the transfer window closes, for Sunderland could sign a host of players between now and then. However, it’s more than clear to see from our opening friendly performances that Sunderland are in real need of athletic, physical, pacey players.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
A shadow of his former self.
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Stewart Donald has reiterated in recent days that new signings are on the horizon, but it’s clear to see from those situated behind the dugout that athletic players with a nasty side to their game are sorely needed. Future success depends upon acquiring players capable of providing a superior physical edge, and right now Sunderland are found wanting in that department.

In order to get out of League One as quick as we possibly can, Sunderland will have to be nastier, fitter, and more aggressive than every other team around them. Recent showings have highlighted the need for sheer athleticism and power in the side - it has to be addressed, and quickly.

There’s a reason as to why Paddy McNair’s return to the side last season yielded positive results - he was able to dominate the middle of the park through a combination of strength and quality. Moving down to League One, we need to be able to mix both quality and flair with brute force and sheer power. McNair’s absence from the side has left a rather conspicuous hole that needs to be filled quickly - and Sunderland simply can’t afford to try and fill that gap on the cheap.

Dylan McGeouch looks a quality player, but it was clear to see at the weekend that someone was desperately required alongside him in order to provide a presence in the middle of the park. Lee Cattermole looks incapable of filling that void and, in turn, Jack Ross and his team would do well to surround Sunderland’s more technically gifted players with teammates capable of winning the more physically demanding battles across the pitch.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

A towering centre-back, an intimidating midfielder or two, pacey wide men, and a couple of powerful forwards would be the perfect set of additions to this Sunderland side. It was clear to see last season that we were struggling with the physical demands of the Championship - League One won’t be any kinder in that regard.

Teams in League One won’t necessarily play the most attractive football, but they will certain play with an aggressive, direct style that will be effective against teams like our own if we can’t go toe-to-toe with the competition. Being able to play attractive football might not be enough if teams are able to intimidate us with their physicality.

Sunderland need a number of strings to their bow, and it’s clear to see that power and athleticism are sorely lacking.

Stewart Donald has admitted it could well be time to open his chequebook and spend some cash; investing in a strong spine of a team could well be the difference between success and failure.

It’s Darwinism in its finest form in the lower leagues, and our success depends on being the fittest team around.