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Charlie Wyke: Hat-trick hero, or back to square one?

A hat-trick and a blank in the space of four days - we ask our writers what our previous two games tell us about our striker and our direction up top going into the second half of the season!

AFC Wimbledon v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Philip West says...

At this moment in time, with Danny Graham and Will Grigg out of action due to injuries, Wyke is undoubtedly our go-to striker. He’s our banker, the man upon which the goalscoring burden is primarily falling.

That I’ve actually had to describe Wyke in such terms is a reminder, not that we needed it, that Sunderland’s cupboard of prolific centre forwards is bare.

In an ideal world, Lee Johnson would be able to call upon the talent of Benji Kimpioka, or would be willing to take a punt on the undoubted potential of Mitch Curry. However, with the former injured and the latter seemingly not yet figuring in Johnson’s thinking, it seems that Wyke will be the leader of our line for the foreseeable future.

The problem is, for every Wimbledon-style performance, during which he played very well, Wyke is liable to turn in the kind of performance we saw against Plymouth, where he poses absolutely no threat whatsoever. This is one of the main reasons why we simply cannot seem to build a winning run, and why we are currently marooned outside the playoff places.

Sunderland Training Session
Danny Graham
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Goals win games, and we simply don’t score enough of them. In fairness to the man, Wyke’s goal tally this season is actually reasonably good, but take him out of the equation, and the goalscoring charts are barren.

Against Port Vale in the EFL Trophy, Johnson opted to experiment with a so-called ‘false-nine’ system, which worked well, as the likes of Aiden O’Brien & Lynden Gooch were able to make runs and stretch the opposition defence to a far greater degree than Wyke.

Would Johnson be willing to try this again, once Gooch is fully fit? Surely it is a gamble worth taking. With our promotion chances fading rapidly, I really don’t see what he’s got to lose. If he is as forward-thinking as we’d all like to think he is, experimentation might be the order of the day for the games ahead.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One
Charlie Wyke
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Gav says...

Regular listeners to our Podcast are probably already aware of this, but I really do not rate Charlie Wyke. The fact the man has managed to score ten league goals so far this season is truly mystifying - never has such a poor footballer been able to hit the back of the net as often as he has during the 2020/21 campaign.

I feel bad for even criticising him in that sense, because Danny Graham and Will Grigg have been infinitely worse - at least Wyke has done his job in scoring goals where they have let us down.

That doesn’t excuse his performances, though. There are valid reasons why the majority of fans tear their hair out when Wyke puts in performances like he did on Tuesday - he is easily the most frustrating regular starter I’ve watched at Sunderland for almost as long as I remember.

He’s out of contract in the summer and I would like to think that Lee Johnson is planning on letting the lad leave. If that is indeed the case, it would be nice to see either other players emerge, for us to bring in another striker, or preferably, both.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League 1
Aiden O’Brien celebrates his goal against Plymouth Argyle
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Aiden O’Brien’s form has improved over the last three games and that should perhaps give us hope that, with a run in the side and with him growing in confidence, he’ll become a reliable enough goalscorer to become our most important forward.

Benji Kimpioka will be back to fitness soon, and his form for the U23s prior to his injury was superb - he’s quick, and gives us a different option, so maybe the second half of the season will see the youngster come into his own. And, with time left in the transfer window, we can bring in another forward - someone hoping to prove themselves, perhaps, either to us or their former clubs.

We can only hope things take a turn for the better. But whilst Charlie Wyke’s goalscoring record is certainly worthy of credit this season, I’ve seen enough of him in the last three years to know that he’s simply not good enough.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light
Benji Kimpioka
Photo by Dave Howarth/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...

First things first - Charlie Wyke shouldn’t be leading Sunderland’s line, let’s make that clear from the start.

As for if he should continue playing that role? Well that’s a different question. I suspect Charlie is a victim of circumstance at the moment. Being largely ineffective, easy to manipulate off the ball and a first touch so bad his second is a tackle somehow puts Wyke in the top 25% of out strikers. That’s mainly because the options outside of playing Wyke are either just as bad or worse.

What Wyke offers to the side is anyone’s guess, and it doesn’t take a genius to see why he frustrates Sunderland fans so regularly, especially given the fact we regularly see opposition do all the things Wyke should do, but doesn’t.

Obviously you can’t coach things like pace and an eye for goal, but you can coach how to use his assets, how to manipulate defenders and use positions awareness, not to mention actually showing some effort from time to time.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League 1
Charlie Wyke
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Then we get to the double-edged sword aspect of Wyke - he keeps scoring. That’s invariably a good thing, but whilst his goalscoring form seems to vary in the same way the Gobi Desert varies in temperature, it’s hard to create not necessarily an argument for dropping Wyke, but more so an argument for any other striker. As our top scorer this season and options limited, we’ll need a sure-fire reason to drop him in favour of someone else.

So where do I fall on all of this? Well, exactly at that juncture. Wyke frustrates the life out of me, I find him clumsy, slow and tactically unaware, yet he continues to find the back of the net albeit sporadically.

Until we can find a striker who brings more to the side or scores with regularity, dropping our top scorer seems a decision fraught with danger. I’ll go pick those spelks from my arse now.

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