RR: So Sunderland have signed Danny Batth from Stoke today. For the Mackems who might not know much about him, what is he like?
Mark: He’s a very solid Championship-standard centre-back.
He defends his goal well and gives a goal threat at the other end.
He’s also clearly a leader and a respected member of the dressing room who is (cliché alert) good to have around the place even when he’s not in the team.
RR: He’s only started nine games for you this season - why would you say he’s fallen out of favour under Michael O’Neill?
Mark: Put simply, Michael O’Neill wants to build from the back and Batth can’t do it.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s uncomfortable on the ball as he does see a fair bit of it, but he’s certainly not someone who’s ever going to be beating the press with clever balls out of the back.
He’s also not someone who’s going to carry the ball out to get you up the pitch, although on the odd occasion he does do it he’s actually quite good at it.
RR: He had a small resurgence before the start of the transfer window, starting 9 straight games and picking up Stoke’s POTM award for November, suggesting he’s still a Championship-level defender. Are Sunderland getting a bit of a coup here?
Mark: Yes, in the sense that he’s easily good enough for the Championship.
I’m surprised he’s dropping a division.
RR: Sunderland are desperate for a big, physical defender who won’t get bullied by League One strikers. From the outside looking in, Batth fits that bill perfectly, but do you think he can deal with the tough world of League One football?
Mark: He certainly does!
If that’s what Sunderland need, that’s exactly what you’ve got.
He’s well capable of mixing it with the rough-and-ready strikers of League One.
RR: Stoke set-up with a three at the back - is he one of those central defenders who needs that extra cover alongside him or can he play in a two-man partnership?
Mark: No, far from it, in fact I’d say he’s much more comfortable in a two when there’s fewer gaps to fill and perhaps less onus on playing out of the defence.
Having said that, you don’t want him to be turned around too much chasing his own goal so you need pace around him.
RR: He’s just hit 100 appearances for Stoke this season and, despite a rocky few years for the club after their relegation, will you be sad to see him leave?
Mark: I wouldn’t say I’m sad to leave, because we need a different kind of defender to play the way that O’Neill wants. So it’s best for both parties that he moves on.
But he’ll certainly go with the best wishes of Stoke fans.
He cost too much money, but nobody could ever doubt his effort or commitment, and he’s more than played his part in turning the ship around.
RR: Finally, for Sunderland fans that are unsure on this signing, what would you say to them?
Mark: If you see Batth from the outset as a no-nonsense centre-back who’ll help you keep clean sheets, you’ll be happy. Just don’t expect Beckenbauer.