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Talking Points: Another clean sheet, but should Sunderland sign a free-agent defender?

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Sunderland managed to keep another clean sheet at the weekend, but we had so many players out of position due to injuries. Should we go out and sign a free agent centre half?

Swindon Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Two right-backs playing centre-half?

Despite it taking Swindon 90 minutes to have one shot on target, against the better teams in League One can Sunderland afford to be so short of central defenders?

The injury to Jordan Willis led to right-backs Conor McLaughlin and Luke O’Nien joining Bailey Wright to form a back three.

McLaughlin has played in this role successfully for Northern Ireland, and he and O’Nien were steady at the weekend, but do we want to risk our promotion aspirations by being short at the back?

Arbenit Xhemajli has been ruled out for the season, in addition to Morgan Feeney’s long-term hamstring injury. Combine this with Bailey Wright’s injury record and you are left with hoping Willis and Tom Flanagan stay fit.

Sunderland did bring Dion Sanderson on loan from Wolves to provide competition, but I think we should bring in one more free agent central defender to prevent players playing out of position, or inexperienced under-21 players being forced to play.

Ex-Blackpool centre-back Ben Heneghan springs to mind.

FBL-EUR-NATIONS-NOR-NIR
Conor McLaughlin played in a back-three for Northern Ireland against Norway, marking the likes of Josh King and Erling Haland.
Photo by HAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

The resurgence of Grant Leadbitter

Grant Leadbitter shown once again against Swindon that he is back.

Many Sunderland fans (including myself) believed Leadbitter’s legs were gone, and his retirement was imminent.

However, after his recent bravery to speak so openly with The Athletic regarding his off the field issues, it is clear Leadbitter has overcome a very rough period within his life and is now getting back to his best on the football pitch.

In his new role under Phil Parkinson, Leadbitter sits deep to control the match through his vision and variety of passes.

He very nearly setup Charlie Wyke with a fantastic lofted pass, and nearly chipped the Swindon goalie Kovar from close to the halfway line.

Leadbitter deserves enormous respect from every Sunderland fan, he could have taken the easy option to retire, but instead he has refused to give up and now looks set to play an integral role in Sunderland’s promotion push - it is great to see you back to your best, Grant!

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - The Valley
Leadbitter was awarded man of the match by Sunderland on social media.
Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Is Gooch a better wing-back than inside-forward?

Another player who stood out against Swindon was Lynden Gooch, but prompts the question, is he better further forward supporting the strikers or deeper as a wing-back?

The American international put in a superb cross on his weaker foot for Charlie Wyke’s opening goal and was a solid 7/10 throughout the match.

Gooch possesses the physicality and work rate to be an effective wing-back, but after O’Nien’s and Hume’s fantastic starts to the season, would he be able to start?

Last season Gooch scored 10 League One goals, as he and Chris Maguire were the main beneficiaries of Parky’s new system going forward, but he struggled for consistency throughout pre-season and the opening League One matches.

The solo goal he scored against Oxford showed the talent Gooch possesses, he is one of few Sunderland players capable of beating players one-on-one with his pace and power.

What Sunderland fans need to see from Gooch is consistency, but will he be deployed at inside-forward or at wing-back moving forward?

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Gooch covered for the injured Denver Hume at left-wing-back on Saturday.
Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Can Charlie Wyke go on to score double figures?

Wyke was nothing special at the weekend, but he took his goal well and now has four goals in all competitions.

Admittedly, three of those of came against Aston Villa U21s and Carlisle in the EFL Trophy, but goals are goals, and they breed confidence in strikers.

If Sunderland are to achieve promotion this season we need one or two of our strikers to start scoring consistently and break into double figures.

Danny Graham missed simple chances against Charlton and Aiden O’Brien has also missed many easy chances since joining the club.

Will Grigg looked sharp in pre-season but the missed penalty against Hull combined with injuries appear to have placed him at the bottom of the pecking order.

Now that Wyke is off the mark in League One, could he be the man to go on a goal scoring run? He scored 15 goals for Bradford in League One during the 2017/18 season so he is capable, but it would take a huge turnaround in form going from his first two seasons with Sunderland.

Our forwards scoring goals appears to be the biggest issue that needs addressing at Sunderland, if we don’t have a forward capable of scoring consistently, will we be able to beat our promotion rivals when games are tight?

Swindon Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Wyke scored his first goal of the 2020/21 League One season against Swindon.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images