Before the long-awaited return of the prodigious Ross Stewart, there was much talk about whether Tony Mowbray would choose to line-up with one or both of our recognised centre forwards.
The strikeforce which is quickly becoming established as the SAS were reunited successfully on Boxing Day, with Ellis Simms coming from the bench to score a memorable late winner against Blackburn.
In doing so, Simms ensured that his name, as well as Stewart’s, was etched on the scoresheet in a bid to force Mowbray’s hand when it comes to selection for Thursday’s trip to Wigan.
I believe that Simms will get the nod to partner Stewart against the Latics, and I’m not just saying that because of the Everton loanee’s quality and calmness in front of goal which brought festive joy to the Stadium of Light.
Simms is simply too good to be a bench player. With six goals to his name this season, he’s our second highest scorer and also has two valuable assists to his name. His own return from injury was rightly lauded because it brought about an end to an almost unprecedented period where we had to play without a recognised striker.
When Stewart was sidelined, Simms was our undisputed main man up top for six weeks. He became a much needed focal point and the axel of Sunderland’s attacking wheel which enabled our creative players to spin freely.
Simms probably became overshadowed in the build-up to Stewart’s return. After all, the Oldham-born forward wasn’t even a Sunderland player when the Loch Ness Drogba was firing us to promotion last season.
But his quality, and importance to the side cannot, and will not, be underestimated. For while Stewart is an undisputed fans favourite, Simms is well liked and appreciated.
Talk of whether Mowbray would play one or two strikers was justified though, especially with the abundance of creative talent we have within the squad. And of course, Simms was the one who made way on Boxing Day as the head coach opted to play Amad Diallo in behind Stewart, flanked by Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts.
Perhaps Mowbray’s reluctance to reunite Simms with Stewart too early was simply because for so long after the Scotsman was injured in the pre-match warm up at Middlesbrough, we had to play with one striker at best, and he didn’t want to change things up too soon.
But before that cruel twist of fate on Teesside, Mowbray had demonstrated his willingness to go with two strikers, as we blew away Rotherham 3-0 with both frontmen in tandem. Our gaffer has previously spoken about how he “likes to play football with strikers”. More recently, he has expressed his intent to keep playing attacking football.
I’ve therefore no doubt that Simms will keep his place in the starting XI at Wigan. For that to happen, we’d probably have to play the 3-5-2 system that worked effectively in the second half against Blackburn. Given the injuries in that game to Lynden Gooch and Dennis Cirkin, this formation and a return to a back three seems a sensible option.