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Sunderland v AS Roma: Pre-Season Friendly

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Out in the wilds! Where do Sunderland’s fringe players fit in Alex Neil’s plans?

Against Coventry City we saw a few notable figures not make the squad for the Lads. Sam Quigley looks at the best way to utilise these players at the Stadium of Light or if they should go elsewhere!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland started their EFL Championship season last weekend against Coventry City and we may have seen what Alex Neil considers his current strongest matchday squad, which left out a few notable players.

In his post-match interview, Alex Neil suggested that he would like to get four or five more players across the line in the four weeks that remain of the transfer window and with current concerns that we have a lack of depth and quality, especially in the midfield, questions have to be asked about squad depth.

So - what will happen to Sunderland’s fringe players if the club manages to bring in higher-quality players before the window slams shut at 11pm on September 1st?


Jack Diamond - Loan

Having spent the last three years of his career at Harrogate Town, initially signing on loan in September 2019, Diamond has bounced between his parent club and Harrogate through various loan deals.

With the permanent signings of Jack Clarke, Patrick Roberts and a possible homecoming for Nathan Broadhead, it pushes Jack Diamond down the pecking order, but it shouldn't necessarily push him out of the club permanently.

Diamond has clearly been putting in the work in whilst away on loan and has come back a much better player than when he left. During our outing against Roma, Diamond had the beating of his opponent almost every time, showing his acceleration and ability on the ball.

Unfortunately, he failed to replicate these performances during the rest of preseason and found himself out of the matchday squad against Coventry.

With this in mind, Diamond should be sent back out on loan to a League One side and with Portsmouth sniffing around him, he may well get regular first-team football.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Jay Matete - Squad Player

Matete joined the club from Fleetwood Town in January 2022 with the reputation of being a dynamic box-to-box midfielder, who thrives in the engine room, but has often found himself playing understudy to Corry Evans and only making 14 appearances last term.

With the question looming regarding the quality of our midfielders, it stands to reason that if we acquire players to strengthen the midfield then it may push Matete further down the pecking order.

The signing of Matete was finalised by a mangerless club, meaning that Kristjaan Speakman signed off the deal based on his data analytics and that he was projected to become a player of Championship quality, so there is a lot more to come.

In this campaign, Matete would be better suited to stay around Sunderland’s first team squad and develop himself as player, whilst being used for squad rotation.

Sunderland v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Leon Dajaku - Loan

After sealing promotion to the Championship, Sunderland were obligated to purchase Leon Dajaku on a permanent deal after triggering a clause in his loan contract. Since returning Dajaku has gone on to clock up a large amount of minutes during pre-season, so it came as a surprise when he was omitted from the matchday squad on opening day.

During our pre-season game against Roma, he was playing out of position as a lone striker and to my surprise, Chris Smalling was struggling to gain the advantage over Dajaku’s constant movement. Had he passed to Jack Clarke, who was standing in front of an open net, we might have seen Dajaku continue his stint as a number nine.

Possessing a great turn of acceleration, a thunderbolt of a left foot and the ego of a twenty-one-year-old professional footballer, Dajaku would benefit from going out on loan to develop himself with regular first-team football.

Sunderland v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Carl Winchester - Sell

When we signed Winchester in January 2021, Forest Green fans were dismayed at Winiesta’s departure but understood that he had what it took to operate at the level above in the center of the park for a team fighting for promotion.

Since then, Winchester has made 42 appearances with the majority coming from right back. So, not exactly the midfield dynamo we had been promised.

It has to be said that whilst he was playing at full-back, Winchester put in some very decent performances and even helped out with a few goals - but the only issue is that he’s not a natural right back, and if Speakman and Neil manage to bring in cover in that area, considering Huggins is also injured, then he may find himself another rung down the ladder.

If we manage to capture another defensive option it may be best if Winchester is moved on, because at twenty-nine years old he will be wanting to play regular first-team football.

Bradford City v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Harrison Sohna - Loan

Signed in July 2021 from Aston Villa to Sunderlands youth academy, Sohna has gone on to make twenty-one appearances in Premier League 2, three appearances in the EFL Trophy, and was named on the bench for the First Team when we traveled to Gillingham in October.

Given that he’s now on the outskirts of first-team football, Sohna would benefit from a loan move to the lower leagues to test his mettle in a first-team environment.

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What’s Next?

One thing is for certain; Kristjaan Speakman will be a very busy man for the next month, hopefully plugging the gaps in the team by bringing in quality players and then allowing players to leave the club, either on loan or permanently, to continue their development.

We have an interesting few weeks ahead.

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