Central defence - a state of emergency?
The landscape has changed on several occasions. What we need now isn’t quite what we needed, say, three weeks ago. Morgan Feeney and Arbenit Xhemajli came in to provide us with depth in defence, but neither player is expected to kick a ball again this year. Both have picked up bad injuries in recent weeks, and that leaves us in a rather precarious position as the end of the transfer window looms ominously on the horizon.
Not much is known about how much of Sunderland’s wage budget is left over now that we’ve recruited a number of senior players already this summer, but you can imagine that there isn’t much wriggle room. The salary cap will have hit us harder than most considering our already sizeable wage bill and relatively large squad. I doubt very much that we budgeted or planned for losing two central defenders to long-term injuries so early in the season, either. But, that’s the hand we’ve been dealt.
We have to think rationally: what business can we not afford to do before the transfer window closes? Obviously, signing a central defender is key. We cannot risk going into such a hectic period with only three players for three positions.
Brandon Taylor has not shown anything during his recent first team outings to suggest he’s capable of stepping in to a League One defence that is keeping clean sheets. Under ordinary circumstances you’d be trying to get him a National League or National League North loan move, so he can cultivate his skills and come back a better player. But, right now, he’s our only cover, and the only position he’s suited to is on the right of the three.
Otherwise, it’s a case of putting people out of position. Luke O’Nien did alright there in the cup last week, but we cannot seriously consider using our best right wing back as a central defender in big league games - he’ll get crucified for his lack of experience in that role.
There’s also Conor McLaughlin, who actually looks more like a centre half than a full back to me. I’ve not rated him at all since he arrived and I think that he’s as poor defensively as he is going forward. I’d be worried if he was starting games regularly out of position.
Clearly, signing a defender is now a priority.
Left Wing Back - no longer a priority?
Much has been made about signing a left wing back over the summer, but in all honesty I’m not as worried about recruiting someone there than I was before the league started. Denver Hume’s emergence as arguably Sunderland’s most important player has changed the landscape, somewhat. Mainly, it is going to be tough to tempt a good quality full back to come here when they likely know they aren’t going to be first choice. Denver’s form won’t have gone unnoticed, and the best free agents won’t just have Sunderland sniffing around them. His success actually weakens our chances of signing someone adequate.
That aside, we have the budgetary issues that were mentioned before. We might have been looking at signing a left back a few weeks ago, but then injuries hit and suddenly, other positions become more of a priority. So then we need to re-assess - how much of what little money we do have left in the wage budget can we actually afford to assign to a backup third tier left back?
In my eyes, the rational thing to do in most cases would be to use your U23s left back as your cover in that position, and it just so happens that Cieran Dunne is one of the better players in our U23s team. He plays wing back and captains the team. He’s also played first team football in the Scottish Championship for Falkirk before he came here, which I think is noteworthy.
Add in the fact that both Lynden Gooch and Jack Diamond have shown they’re adept at playing in that role, and I think we can just about manage with what we’ve got until January, which might be a more appropriate time to re-assess. That is, of course, if my assumptions are correct, and we can’t really afford to bring anyone in.
Attack... a luxury we can’t afford?
I don’t think anyone who watches Sunderland regularly could sit with a straight face and say that they think our strikers are adequate. It is our wide attacking players, namely Chris Maguire, Lynden Gooch and Jack Diamond, that look the most convincing.
Yet, we have a very real problem. Everyone understands that Charlie Wyke is not good enough, but the reality is two-fold - one, Parkinson keeps using him, so he obviously believes that he has a use in this team, and two... who on earth is going to buy him off us?
Then there’s Will Grigg, a player whom Parky has demonstrated clearly has no real place in his plans. He’s barely used him since he took the job last December and it was expected, particularly since Parkinson’s track record elsewhere shows he favours a target man.
The problem, however, is that Grigg is one of our highest paid players. He came here for a fortune, too, and in the event of a sale the club are going to want to recoup some of what they paid for him. Right now, however, the financial issues all clubs are facing means that the type of clubs who would ordinarily look to sign Grigg are unlikely to have the funds to afford him. And that aside, clubs who might be thinking about enquiring have to be wondering why he’s been such a failure at Sunderland... is it worth using up a big chunk of your transfer and wage budget to sign a player who could well be a dud?
Now that might seem unfair, but these are surely things clubs consider when weighing up their options. The truth of it is that there are probably players of equal or similar ability to Grigg available as free agents - so many adequate players are still looking for clubs.
We lack pace in forward areas - everyone knows this. But with so many attacking players already taking up squad positions, how likely is it that we’ll add another into the mix?
Unless there’s a club willing to loan us a player on the proviso they may not actually play a lot of football - and you have to say that, considering Parky’s track record of giving youngsters a chance, it’s unlikely they’ll get a sniff. Just look at Antoine Semenyo.
He hardly got a kick after signing in January, yet is one of Bristol City’s star players so far this season in the league above. Parent clubs will see that and more than likely opt to send these players elsewhere, where they will be guaranteed more game time playing in the exact same league.
The form of Benji Kimpioka for our U23s since he came back to the club won’t have gone unnoticed. He scored another two goals yesterday in a game against Sheffield United U23s - will that be enough to make the decision-makers at the club think that we should go with Benji ahead of signing someone else?
Phil Parkinson did say a few weeks back that he’d only sign a young player for that role if they were better than what we’ve got, and with both Jack Diamond and Kimpioka impressing recently, I just wonder if Parky might be tempted to wait it out.
Again, like with the left back situation, I honestly don’t see us doing anything until January at the earliest.