In a few weeks we’ll reach the halfway mark of the season, and at the moment the signs are hopefully positive for a top six position heading into the New Year.
It’s perhaps no surprise the top four is now dominated by the three relegated Premier League teams plus an Ipswich team who are flying. Many, Tony Mowbray included, feel Ipswich will slip away and join the ’pack’ but I’m not convinced.
There is money behind the Tractor Boys and if Ipswich are still in the top two in January I’m sure they will strengthen further. Both Leicester and Ipswich have breathing space at the moment. Leicester has lost two on the bounce but are still eight points clear of third place.
Sunderland head to Plymouth with the Pilgrims nineteenth and with their own striker issues - it’s as good a time as any to head west.
Talk has been focussed on what is likely to happen in January. Will Sunderland need to recruit another striker, or will one of the four musketeers find their touch? Rusyn has been working hard and was unlucky not to break his duck against Birmingham City. Burstow nearly curled in a wonderful effort and the minutes will do him good. Mayenda looks strong but we need to see more of him and Hemir as a lot of people have been saying probably needs to spend some time on loan to become acclimatised to the rough and tumble of English football.
The bigger issue is going to be keeping hold of players. In my mind, there is no question Sunderland will be tested in January. Jack Clarke is unquestionably top of the list, but close behind the vultures will be circling around Dan Neil, Dan Ballard, Niall Huggins, Trai Hume, and Anthony Patterson for starters.
I am sure the club can fend off much of the interest, especially since they have diligently tied players to new contracts and so the ball remains very much in the club’s court. Jack Clarke remains the player who will attract the most interest, but if the club are in the top six and a credible promotion challenge is once again on the horizon, the club has said earlier this season he won’t be moved on - and I can’t see a Premier League club spending big on Clarke in January.
IF one does - and you’d like to think any offer below £25 million would be batted away - one would hope a loan back deal could be brokered. One has to take into account that any sale will surely involve a percentage heading to Tottenham Hotspur so the deal has to make financial sense to Sunderland in the wider scheme of their project.
Of course, the next question that arises is: who replaces Clarke or a.n.other if and when they do leave? The project works on the basis of a succession plan. The last two seasons have seen remarkable development in the players brought in, but is the squad robust enough yet to allow players to leave?
In my mind probably not, despite the progress made by the likes of Ba and Ekwah, and the evidence lately of Aouchiche when he has played.
I think the squad needs at least two more transfer windows to be ‘Premier League Ready’, but that said, if the opportunity arises to be promoted sooner I wouldn’t overly fear the consequences.
My gut feeling is this current squad with one or two additions, notably some experienced players, could hold its own in the Premier League, barring a litany of injuries - which does appear to be an achilles heel.
Come what may the season so far points on points compared to last is statistically better, and I believe this to be a tougher division this season. Who knows, we may even attract Amad Diallo back in January - and imagine what may happen if that is the case.
And then our fork handles may have even turned into four candles on fire!