clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Sunderland Training Session

Filed under:

Sunderland’s Squad: Which positions do our recruitment team need to strengthen this summer?

We go in-depth, position-by-position, looking at where Sunderland can expect to see some movement in the transfer window. How many players do we actually need?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


What Have We Got?

Lee Burge might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as far as League One goalkeepers go, he’s at the better end of the scale. He kept eighteen clean sheets last season and saw his contract extended by a year, so he’s here, and for the time being, holds the number one shirt.

Anthony Patterson performed admirably for the U23s last season and gave a particularly impressive performance in the PL2 Play-Off Final, which really announced him to the watching supporters as a genuine first-team option.

If the club’s new regime are serious about promoting through our best young talent into the first-team setup, Patterson has to be considered on an equal footing to Burge. He’s a more than adequate replacement for the hapless Remi Matthews, and should be given the chance to prove himself in the games we have scheduled over the coming weeks.

Jacob Carney has been signed from Manchester United mainly to play in the U23s, but will train with the first team, and is likely seen as third choice.

What Do We Need?

Well... nothing. I know people would probably prefer a different first-choice goalie, but Burge is going nowhere and Patterson’s ready for the step up, even if it’s just to number two. I don’t see a situation where we sign another goalkeeper... though I could be wrong.

Spennymoor Town v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Left Backs

What Have We Got?

Nothing, bar U23s left wing-back Cieran Dunne - who did sign a new one-year deal this summer, but isn’t considered as part of the first-team squad just yet.

What Do We Need?

There’s still an offer on the table for Denver Hume to sign a new contract, and whilst those talks appear to be protracted, you’d imagine that there will surely be a resolution sooner rather than later. My gut tells me he’ll sign up and return as our first choice left-back, leaving Speakman and Johnson with the task of recruiting some competition.

Hume’s not the most durable player and I’d suggest signing another left-back who is ready to play first-team football is vitally important, given he hardly played last season - and we were forced to see more of Callum McFadzean than even the happiest of clappers could stomach.

How much of your wage budget do you spend on a backup left-back, though? I’m guessing we’ll venture into the loan market again... just not for another Jake Vokins.

It’s the most practical avenue to take given there will be young fullbacks at Premier League clubs looking to gain first-team experience - with the added bonus that the parent club will foot most of the bill.

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Right Backs

What Have We Got?

Other than the versatile Luke O’Nien (we’ll get onto him in a bit), we’ve got nothing other than new recruit Ethan Kachosa, who was signed from Leeds United but to play for our U23s.

The longer we don’t have a right-back, though, the more likely it becomes that he’ll get a chance in the first team in pre-season games - and if he impresses, who knows what might happen. He played against Spennymoor in the second half, and apparently did quite well.

Let’s not place too much pressure on him, though.

Conor McLaughlin and Max Power have both left, leaving us bare in that position.

There’s a school of thought that Lynden Gooch could be a long-term option there, and he did play right wing-back on a few occasions last season, but let’s wait and see.

What Do We Need?

We definitely need at least one senior right back. Someone with a bit of pace would be nice, as it was a bit of a problem position for us last season. Conor McLaughlin was very decent defensively but struggled to join in with attacks, limiting our effectiveness down the right-hand side when going forward.

I wonder if we might be tempted to just go with Gooch, O’Nien and Kachosa as backup options. Ideally, we’ll do the same as I think we’ll do over on the left, and bring a youngster in who can offer proper competition to whoever is first choice.

Central Defenders

What Have We Got?

You could argue that we’re fairly well equipped in the centre of defence. Bailey Wright is back again, and joined by Northern Ireland international Tom Flanagan - another who isn’t everyone’s cup of tea - and Ollie Younger, who signed a new deal and will join up with the first-team squad.

Arbenit Xhemajli is back in training, and whilst Lee Johnson has been keen to take the pressure off the Kosovan international by saying he doesn’t expect him to be in full flow til near Christmas time, I reckon we’ll see him a lot sooner than that.

Jordan Willis is still at the club, but his injury is expected to keep him out for the season - it’s likely that we’ve seen the last of him in a Sunderland shirt.

What Do We Need?

We need at least one central defender - someone young, athletic and durable that can replace the spot left behind by Dion Sanderson, who seems destined for bigger things.

The Daily Mail reported that we had seen a £1m bid rejected, and other outlets have reported that Newcastle and Sheffield United are chasing him. If we’re going to get Dion back, I reckon it’ll be late in the window, perhaps once other clubs have either moved onto other options or passed up on him.

Callum Doyle from Manchester City has been in talks, and whilst he’s only young, clearly he’s very highly thought of. Whether he’d be able to deal with the physicality of League One football at the age of 17, nobody knows. If he’s talented, it may be a gamble worth taking.

Central Midfielders

What Have We Got?

Carl Winchester will be hoping to nail down a regular spot in the side following his January move from Forest Green Rovers - and that path is probably a little clearer now that Grant Leadbitter, Josh Scowen and Max Power have all departed.

Luke O’Nien signed a three-year contract with the club, and you have to suppose that in doing so, it came with some guarantees. O’Nien has sacrificed his own development as a central midfielder over the last three years in order to help cover gaps in the side for the good of the team, and whilst his efforts have been admirable, he’ll want a chance to play in his proper position in the centre of the park.

Alongside those two is Dan Neil, the young prospect who has seriously impressed almost every time he’s featured in the first team. As with Anthony Patterson, the route into the first team for our best young players has to be more defined, and Neil’s likely to be given a chance to play in a more forward-thinking Sunderland side next season. His ability to play forward passes from deep, helping to link the play with our attackers, could be key.

What Do We Need?

As I already mentioned, we’ve lost three players in this position. Luke O’Nien and Dan Neil will likely take up two of the spots, leaving us with one huge gap to fill. We need a big, athletic defensive midfielder and have needed one for many years at Sunderland, and finding the right character and player could be key to our promotion hopes.

They must be durable, and able to cover a range of roles in the centre of the park.

Luke O’Nien Signs New Contract At Sunderland AFC Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Attacking Midfielders

What Have We Got?

This is the area of the park where we are perhaps best-equipped, with the majority of the players up there able to play in a number of positions.

Signing Alex Pritchard was important, and whilst there are doubts over his fitness, this is a player who was signed by a Premier League side for £11m only three years ago. He was a huge success at both Brentford and Norwich in the Championship, so if we’re able to keep him on the pitch and playing in a team that works to his strengths, we’re almost certain to get a player whose ability outstrips the division he finds himself in. Pritchard can also play in the centre of the park as part of a midfield three, and out on the right-hand side as a wide player, so his versatility will be important.

Elliot Embleton is another with similar attributes, and he returns back to the club after a hugely successful loan spell with play-off winners Blackpool. Embleton can’t really do much more to prove his worth, and surely now becomes a proper first-team player this season.

Another youngster ready to make his mark on the first team is Josh Hawkes, who was the standout player for the U23s last season, scoring and creating goals on a regular basis. He won’t play every week but has to be given an equal opportunity to shine in pre-season.

Out wide, again our options are decent.

Aiden McGeady has re-signed for another year and proved that a) Lee Johnson can get the best out of him, and b) that he’s still more than capable of still playing three games a week.

Jack Diamond should return a more well-rounded player following his debut season as part of the first team, giving us options on both flanks and as an out-ball when we need someone to drive forward at pace and take pressure off the rest of the team.

Then, there’s Lynden Gooch - another versatile player who can play in a front two, off the left, off the right, as a ten or even as a wing-back. Like Luke O’Nien, I’d like to see Lynden finally nail down a spot in the side rather than being used as a utility player in various positions, because the constant chopping and changing has limited the impact that he’s been able to have, particularly last season.

Last but not least, Benji Kimpioka returns after his loan with Torquay United, and this really is a make or break season for him. It feels as though he’ll never make it if he doesn’t have a significant impact in 2021/22, so he’ll be keen to make his mark.

What Do We Need?

Despite the fact we look well-stocked in those three attacking midfield spots, I think we could still do with signing a right-sided forward with pace, who can either play on the wing or play as part of a front two - someone like Mallik Wilks, who was such a huge threat for Hull City last season from wide right.

Sunderland AFC Announce Signing Of Alex Pritchard Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


What Have We Got?

Ross Stewart cost Sunderland £350,000 in January and, despite a few injury setbacks, made a decent impact in the first team at the back-end of the season, scoring a fantastic goal away at Plymouth, and in the Play-Off semi-final second leg against Lincoln.

With an injury-free pre-season behind him, the hope is that Stewart can fill Charlie Wyke’s shoes and lead the line for Sunderland. He’s not going to score thirty-odd goals next season, but he is a more well-rounded striker than Wyke, and the team as a whole *might* be better off as a result.

Whisper it quietly, but could there still be a chance for redemption at Sunderland with Will Grigg? Lee Johnson remained on the fence when asked about it last week, insisting that Grigg’s Sunderland future is in his own hands.

If I had to put money on it I’d guess that Grigg will leave the club late in the window, but that’s a long way away, and he may be expected to play his part yet. With a strong pre-season, he gives himself a better chance of either securing a decent move away or even nailing down a spot in our side - so, what I’m trying to say is that it’s in his best interests to play like he gives a shit, at least until we get rid of him.

Johnson’s comments on Grigg did get me thinking though. Does he back himself to be able to coach the Northern Ireland striker into becoming a success here? Will a change in playing style, bringing Alex Pritchard and Elliot Embleton into the picture, get the best out of Grigg in the same way playing with a number ten at Wigan got him scoring on a regular basis? Stranger things have happened.

Aiden O’Brien is still here and still under contract, and whilst I don’t rate him particularly highly, Johnson used him a fair bit last season as a second striker... so I can see him sticking around as a backup option.

What Do We Need?

This really depends on a number of things.

Will Stewart be able to stay fit, and hit the ground running by scoring goals through pre-season and when our League One campaign begins?

Is there still a chance that Will Grigg will stay and become the striker we thought that we were getting in 2019? Or, will he leave?

If we sign another striker I can’t see us bringing one in any time soon, and that we’re more likely to do any business in that position towards the end of the window. Really, it hinges on Grigg and whether he wants to be here. If he doesn’t, we’ll probably end up loaning him out and paying some of his wages, which are big for a club at this level.

I reckon we’ll probably go with what we’ve got and see how things develop towards the end of August.

Spennymoor Town v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Editorial: It’s a huge week for Tony Mowbray and Sunderland - it could be make or break


The SAFC 365 Advent Calendar (Dec 4th): Four top class keepers!


Fan Letters: “Let’s not rush to try and force Tony Mowbray out!”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report