After both Robbin Ruiter and Max Stryjek departed the club, Sunderland were in dire need of someone to offer Jon McLaughlin competition ahead of this season.
Subsequently, the acquisition of Coventry’s number one, Lee Burge, on a free deal was greeted with general enthusiasm on Wearside.
Burge has shown himself to be an able deputy and could well challenge for the number one spot in the coming weeks - from what we’ve seen of him so far, he’d be a more than capable stopper at this level.
Verdict - 9/10 : A really solid purchase, snagging a league rival’s number one on the premise that he will be understudy to your current number one is impressive business!
Let’s be ruthlessly honest here, last season Sunderland’s defence struggled as the season wore on. We desperately needed defenders with pace, power and the ability to concentrate throughout ninety minutes. Unfortunately, those at our disposal really lost their way into the tail end of the season.
As such, Sunderland have acquired four new defenders this summer, getting rid of four others in the meantime. Conor McLaughlin, Jordan Willis, Joel Lynch, and Laurens De Bock have all come into the squad - the last two have yet to make an appearance for the team, though.
On paper they’re decent acquisitions; three of them come from the Championship while Willis was the captain of a divisional rival. However, the jury is still out on De Bock and Lynch who have yet to feature. Furthermore, Conor McLaughlin has also failed to inspire confidence after a few shaky showings - is he better than Bryan Oviedo, Reece James or Adam Matthews who left the club during the summer?
Jordan Willis looks a fantastic signing but only alongside last season’s unsung hero, Alim Ozturk, whose no-nonsense approach has helped settle Willis into the side in recent weeks. In all, Sunderland’s business has been a mixed bag thus far and question marks still linger over our solidity at the back.
Verdict - 7/10: Willis looks a great signing, but will any of the others be an improvement on what we already had? It’s too early to say.
Arguably, Sunderland needed a central midfielder capable of providing athleticism and physicality to the side alongside someone capable of taking the ball forward with speed where they would be able to take the game to the opposition and make something happen.
However, after the departure of Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman this summer, Sunderland signed a solitary midfielder labelled as an energetic box-to-box player. George Dobson has looked impressive in his fleeting minutes and offers both energy and bite in the middle of the park. However, there’s a sense that Sunderland’s midfield options are much of a muchness.
There’s a lack of pace, athleticism and flair at times as the midfield contentedly move the ball around languidly hoping to find a window of opportunity. Dobson offers something different, but has found minutes somewhat difficult to come by. Instead, Ross has relied on Max Power and Grant Leadbitter recently, and although they have played well at times, they can also look immobile and uninspiring as well.
Ethan Robson’s loan to Grimsby will hopefully allow him to develop while another former Grimsby loanee, Elliot Embleton, could prove to be a real asset if he finds his feet. Meanwhile, Luke O’Nien looks consigned to life as a full back. As such, it would have been nice to see the cub add a creative midfielder to our ranks.
Verdict - 5.5/10: I think Sunderland really needed a marquee signing in midfield this summer. We’ve got a decent bunch, but they’re all very similar in terms of ability and style - if our wide players aren’t performing we look lost.
In the final third of the pitch, there’s a very clear issue that wasn’t addressed this summer - the need to add some pace to our attack.
Aiden McGeady, Chris Maguire, Elliot Embleton, Charlie Wyke, and Will Grigg are all good players; however, they all lack a turn of genuine pace. They lack the raw ability to scare defenders with the speed at which they can cover open ground.
New signing Marc McNulty looks a good acquisition. He works hard for the team, is dangerous int he final third, and moves the ball well, but he too lacks out and out pace.
Some might argue that Lynden Gooch has pace, but he struggles to utilise it. Instead of looking to get in behind his man, he often comes deep where he can sometimes be guilty of trying to do too much in possession. Furthermore, Duncan Watmore can’t string enough games together to show us what he’s capable of and Benji Kimpioka still looks too raw to make a concerted impact.
Sunderland, therefore, struggle to play with speed; instead, we rely on trying to break teams down with a short passing game. However, if the opposition are comfortable at sitting back, absorbing pressure and the looking to hit us on the break, we often look a little lost at times in coming up with a plan B.
Having a player - whether a winger or a forward - who can stretch a defence with his pace is a huge positive because they offer an outlet if our shorter game isn’t working, and their pace is enough to force an opposition defence to remain wary with their shape and style of play.
Sunderland could well have shot themselves in the foot in failing to acquire a pacery forward capable of offering the side something different in attack.
Verdict - 5/10: McNulty is a good purchase, and gives us the workrate we need up top. However, the lack of pacey reinforcements is a worry. We’ve had this issue for a while now, it should have been addressed already.