Doesn’t it feel weird to be sat here on Deadline Day, with Sunderland not actually needing to sign anyone? I had to sit and think about this long and hard - when was the last time that this was actually the case?
We’re not scrambling around, trying to get our third or fourth choice in. We’re not overpaying for anyone. We’re not waiting on deals falling through or happening elsewhere.
Instead, we’re sat with our feet up, waiting for a couple of fringe players to get moves away.
Isn’t that... nice? Less stressful?
Perhaps this is a good reflection on our new Head Coach and Sporting Director, who came into this transfer window with a plan. They’ve had very little time to prepare for this window, but they identified players in positions that we need to strengthen and, to their credit, they’ve got them in with time to spare.
Finding quality at left back was crucial
Jake Vokins was apparently our first choice target at the start of the month, and we tailed him right up until he was brought in on Friday. The hold up was on Southampton’s end, as they didn’t want to let the player leave early, potentially leaving them exposed in the event of injuries to key players.
Had England international Ryan Bertrand gone down with an injury or illness, Vokins would have been expected to start games in the Premier League - something that I suppose shows just how highly thought of he is by Saints boss Ralph Hasenhüttl.
Thankfully, everything went to plan, and Vokins joins us and is sure to strengthen arguably our weakest current position, with regular first choice Denver Hume ruled out. Callum McFadzean, who was only brought in to provide cover, has been asked to play every game in Hume’s absence - and despite working hard, has not shown that he’s good enough to play for a team who are hoping to achieve promotion out of this league.
Leadbitter can’t play every game...
Carl Winchester was brought in from Forest Green, and again you’d imagine he was first choice, given that he was brought in early in the window.
He played for Lee Johnson at Oldham, so he was already known to the man in charge, and has had a few weeks now to settle in and get to know his new teammates. Winchester gives us another option, and adds depth where previously we’ve lacked it.
That, combined with Luke O’Nien’s return from injury, means that Johnson can perhaps afford to rest Grant Leadbitter more often, and play Max Power at right back - somewhere the Sunderland captain has apparently said he sees himself playing long-term.
Pace, direct running, swagger...
Sunderland, for whatever reason, just don’t sign quick players. Why? I honestly have no idea. For probably as long as I can recall, we’ve continually ignored the need to add pace, height, athleticism and power to our squad.
We’re not out of the woods yet, and I actually think our impending summer reset will see us properly address this long-standing issue, but the signing of Jordan Jones from Glasgow Rangers is definitely us heading on the right tracks.
I’ve watched Jones play a fair bit in Europe for the Gers, and stand out on many occasions. He’s got international experience, and was arguably the most important player at Kilmarnock when they almost broke the Old Firm’s hold over the top two spots in Scotland when Steve Clarke was in charge - he’s undoubtedly a Championship player.
Jones himself said in his first interview with the club website that he had spoken to various clubs in the league above, with it being understood that Stoke City were one of them. The fact he sees Sunderland as the best move for him at this stage in his career is intriguing - moving closer to home is obviously a huge factor, but proving that he’s good enough to play for a big club is just as important.
Suddenly, the additions of Jones and Vokins down that left-hand side make us look like a very exciting attacking outfit - if those two can click, and click quickly, we could see more goals, more exciting football, and a team playing at a higher tempo.
Jones spoke of Johnson’s influence in his signing - had this deal gone to the last day, with the player waiting for other offers to come along, we could have been sat here now hoping for a deal with another player to surface.
Hats off to Speakman and the manager - this is tremendous business.
Ross Stewart - the data signing
Most fans likely hadn’t heard of Ross Stewart before he signed for us on Sunday. The majority will have stuck his name into google, checked his scoring stats from the last season or so, and will have raised an eyebrow, wondering... well, what’s this all about?
I asked Roker Report’s resident data expert, Steve Tiltman, for his take:
If you go back to when Stewart was playing primarily as a centre forward, his numbers were very good indeed, but I am not necessarily talking about goals. Goals are what gets the attention of course, but they are also what costs most.
There are other players out there with similar stats who are at the top of the goals tables. Everyone knows about them as a result.
Some of Stewart’s historical data shows a few of the necessary traits to be a top scorer in the right team. And, as it has been pointed out by supporters of Ross County, he runs a lot (the data also supports this) - and that was what Lee Johnson placed a lot of importance on in his comments upon Stewart’s signing being announced.
Stewart can be seen as a good marksman given last season he had an xG of just 3.18. Which means he was actually scoring low-probability shots given 11 goals in total. Primary strength is his aerial ability - on average 5.3 aerial duels won per game this season. (2/3) #SWFC pic.twitter.com/UCSNFU8B4a— Owls Analytics (@AnalyticsOwls) September 29, 2020
Without getting overly technical - there’s something in Ross Stewart’s data that suggests that he’s better than what he’s shown at Ross County.
Stewart himself said in his SAFC.com interview that he’s spent the last season and a half largely playing out of position, and that he feels his best role is as a number nine.
If played in his correct position, in a team with better players, there’s a theory that Stewart will score goals. Without being too disrespectful to Ross County, they currently occupy the second from bottom place in the Scottish Premiership table.
Yet, Stewart has been linked to a host of Championship clubs over the last year or so, largely because his data interests clubs looking for a bargain. You could say he’s something of a ‘Moneyball’ acquisition, and has been bought for his potential, rather than what you see on the face of it.
Check the comments on the below tweet from the Ross County supporters - they were nothing but supportive, speaking glowingly of Stewart upon his departure.
This may work out, it may not - what’s pleasing is that we’re thinking outside the box.
Ross County can this afternoon confirm that Ross Stewart has joined League One side Sunderland for an undisclosed fee.— Ross County FC (@RossCounty) January 31, 2021
Everybody at the club wishes Ross success in his next chapter, and we look forward to watching him go from strength to strength.
Did we get everything we needed?
The most important thing coming out of this transfer window was that we addressed the most pressing concerns we have with this squad. On that front, I’d say we’ve achieved something.
In Ross Stewart, Jordan Jones and Jake Vokins we’ve added much-needed pace, and in Winchester we’ve given ourselves another defensive midfield option, but one that passes the ball quickly and gets involved in attacking moves.
Right now it’s impossible to say if this has been a totally successful window, but the fact we clearly had a plan and carried it out is satisfying.
Now it’s down to the Head Coach and the players to do their bit on the pitch.
We’re sat in 6th place, so promotion is in our hands, but advancing up the table and putting pressure on the top two is what we need to do next. As Jordan Jones said, the aim is still to get promoted. Yes, we’re eight points behind the top two, but there’s still half a season left to play. We’ve now got a big squad capable of playing three games a week, and importantly we’ve added quality in areas of the pitch that lacked it.
Results like the one on Saturday against Gillingham have to become less frequent. We’ve thrown away 11 points from winning positions already this season, and our home form is dire. We simply do not kill teams off, and the addition of a clutch of high-quality attacking players for this level could prove vital.
For once, it’s nice to feel relaxed and satisfied on Deadline Day.