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What changes would you make to improve Sunderland’s fortunes in front of goal?

What would you change with the players at Lee Johnson’s disposal to improve Sunderland’s scoring record this season? Our panel give their views...

Sunderland v Port Vale - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Philip West says...

The obvious answer to our woeful lack of firepower would be to dip into the transfer market this January and buy two pacey, prolific forwards who can bring some movement and some penalty-box sharpness to our attack. The problem, of course, is that we are feeling the squeeze financially, and as we learned to our cost with the signing of Will Grigg two years ago, January transfers, especially those completed by clubs in our position, often reap very little reward.

Assuming, therefore, that our transfer business is minimal and that we remain lumbered with our current crop of forwards, I would seriously consider bringing Mitch Curry, who’s been prolific for our academy team, into the first team picture.

In an ideal world, Lee Johnson, who strikes me as quite a progressive thinker and someone who believes in a strong academy system, would also be able to call on the services of Benji Kimpioka, but given that he’s still injured, Curry, in theory, would be the next in line.

Would it be a risk? That depends on your point of view. He’s young, raw, and would perhaps require some time to get up to speed with the rigours of League One football, but on the other hand, what is the purpose of an academy, if not to bring young players through and eventually integrate them into the first team?

I do understand the argument that we need a ‘senior’ striker, someone who has a proven record at this level, but I’m also absolutely convinced that Curry would be extremely motivated to make an impression if he was given a chance. Given our current league position, and promotion appearing, at this stage, to be an ever more remote prospect, perhaps it’s time to take that gamble and see whether it pays off.

Sunderland v Heerenveen Pre-Season Friendly
Benji Kimpioka
Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gary Engel says...

Generally speaking the team are fairly solid. But it is goals that will cost Sunderland the chance of competing for the play-offs. After the Lincoln game I said one game was too early to say we’d turned a corner - so it has proved.

Looking at the way we are playing, with the best will in the world, Johnson is unlikely to find the difference in our current crop of players. We have lacked genuine creativity for some time now, without that we’re not going to move up or out of this division. Let’s face it, without an added creative edge we could have Ruud van Nistelrooy up front at his peak and we still wouldn’t find the net.

Perhaps a slight change to the system could help. Without changing to 4-4-2 that fans constantly call for, the next best alternative might be to get another player up alongside our lone forward maybe in a false number ten position. If we can get the ball forward and keep hold of it in the right area we might do far more damage.

No matter if our takeover is completed right away, financially things won’t change massively in terms of wages. Our best chance is probably the loan market, perhaps a young Premier League striker ready for some first team action in the lower leagues. Johnson has had some past success in that region. Our signings will be limited but they must be carefully chosen hit the ground running.

Sunderland v Port Vale - Papa John’s Trophy
Charlie Wyke
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Paul Fletcher says...

There’s no easy answer to this so my idea is a radical one. Everyone knows the style of football that Johnson wants us to play, including the opposition. This makes us very predictable and easy to defend against. I’m not against Johnson’s ideas - but with the squad he’s inherited from Parkinson and the limited preparation time between games, it’s unrealistic to expect any dramatic turnaround.

We are currently a million miles from playing the football that Johnson wants us to play and there’s no quick fix. We don’t look likely to break teams down and create goal scoring opportunities, especially against opponents who sit back and defend.

When Johnson has had a couple of transfer windows to shape his squad and a full pre-season on the training ground to perfect things, his ideas could work brilliantly. But right now, he doesn’t have the luxury of a honeymoon period to bed in.

This season isn’t a write off just yet but if we continue taking an average of 1.6 points per game, it soon will be. We need to try something completely different. I’m not saying abandon the philosophy. I’m saying put it on hold until the beginning of next season when he can implement it properly.

Sunderland v Port Vale - EFL Trophy Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For now, I would do the opposite of what every opposing manager will be expecting. I’d play 4-2-3-1 with Jordan Willis up front as a target man and just launch the ball in his direction at every opportunity. Why not get out of League One by playing League One football?

My two holding midfielders (selected from Leadbitter, Scowen, Winchester, Power, Dobson) would play quite deep and be responsible for launching the long balls and covering the full backs when they venture forward to get on the end of all Willis’ knock downs.

For every set piece in their half, I’d send Wright and Sanderson up there too and just launch everything in the box, then wait for the opposition defence to make a mistake. There’s no defence in League One that is good enough to withstand constant bombardment for 90 minutes.

The key players in this formation will be the three ‘busy players’ who are playing off Willis, picking up the pieces and hopefully scoring all the goals. Here, you can take your pick from McGeady, Embleton, Gooch, Diamond, O’Nien, Maguire, Grigg, Kimpioka, Curry, O’Brien, Graham and Wyke. With the substitution rules, none of these players ever need to play more than 60 minutes, so they should all be running themselves into the ground.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Jordan Willis
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Johnson should be ready to change it up at some point between half time and the hour mark. Depending on how the game is going. This may mean either changing the system to something resembling the style of football he wants to play (with fresh legs against tired defenders) or simply a change in personnel if the style of football is effective.

Imagine you’re an opposition defender and you’ve been bombarded for an hour, with Willis challenging for every first ball and then three players harassing you for every second ball - then after 60 mins we completely switch our front four and style of play – suddenly you’ve got Diamond, McGeady, Gooch and Kimpioka all running at you. It would be anything but an easy day at the office.

And that’s what it comes down to - making it difficult and uncomfortable for the opposition to defend, putting them under consistent pressure. Something Sunderland seem to have rarely done in the past three seasons.

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