As our 2023/2024 season continues to be dogged by a lack of composure and cutting edge in the penalty area, a favourite statistic of many frustrated Sunderland fans is of exactly how many days it’s been since an out-and-out striker scored a goal for us.
As the games have passed by and none of our four summer additions have found the net (unluckily, in some cases), people have repeatedly dredged up Joe Gelhardt’s well-taken strike against Huddersfield last season and used it as proof that we’ve been caught on the hop.
Consequently, Kristjaan Speakman has been in the firing line and the much-vaunted ‘model’ has been under the microscope again.
Never mind the fact that Ross Stewart hadn’t kicked a ball for months before his eventual departure for Southampton, and we didn’t exactly struggle to score during that time.
Never mind the fact that Ellis Simms wasn’t our player and was prone to being recalled by Everton as and when they felt, or that Amad, whose quality we could always bank on, was going back to Manchester United in the summer.
However, despite the ifs, buts and maybes, there’s no denying that up front, we do have issues.
Forty eight shots and only eight on target during our last two away games is a remarkable statistic and the problem, although glaring, can be fixed. If we weren’t creating chances, there’d be cause for alarm, but we are, so it’s more of an irritation than a crisis.
Suffice it to say, our quartet of forwards aren’t exactly finding it plain sailing on Wearside.
Hemir is searching for form and confidence, Nazariy Rusyn looks promising but hasn’t yet made the breakthrough. Eliezer Mayenda is in the same boat and Chelsea loanee Mason Burstow has wisely been taken out of the firing line after some disappointing performances.
If you take a step back from the usual fallout that surrounded Saturday’s toothless defeat at the hands of Plymouth, our summer recruitment wasn’t ‘shambolic’ by any realistic definition.
It was very much geared towards a certain profile of player (the admittedly experienced but off-the-pace Bradley Dack aside- can anyone explain exactly what he offers?) and in fairness, many of the new arrivals, particularly Jobe Bellingham and Adil Aouchiche, who simply must start against Huddersfield on Wednesday, have looked good.
Others, such as the strikers mentioned above, haven’t adapted as quickly or hit the goal trail as prolifically as we would’ve liked.
It might feel churlish to repeatedly fall back on the ‘goal shy strikers’ angle when we win, but after games like Saturday, it was hardly surprising to see it at the heart of the discussion yet again.
In the case of Hemir, the fact that different players adapt at different speeds seems to be an alien concept, and public criticism of the young striker is hardly likely to help, either. Patience is needed, and he needs to continue to apply himself to the best of his ability.
Perhaps we’re blurring the lines between a ‘shambolic’ window, of which we’ve had many over the years, and an experimental one, which last summer’s certainly was. We haven’t filled the squad with driftwood, and many of these players could eventually become hugely influential figures in red and white.
Speakman might often deal in wordy statements and statistics, but he doesn’t deal in ‘sticking plaster solutions’, and certainly not after the debacle of Jermaine Defoe’s second coming, which left the sporting director looking less than streetwise when it fell apart.
With that in mind and as the January transfer window begins to appear on the horizon, it feels unlikely that he’s going to deviate from the plan and cave in to the inevitable demands to ‘SIGN A PROVEN GOALSCORER’ that’ll be circulating from now until the end of January.
Connor Wickham clearly won’t be spotted at Penshaw Monument. Chris Martin won’t be photographed in The Bridges, and it’s nigh on impossible to see Kieffer Moore heading north for a spell in red and white, either. If we were to step outside of the current framework for a striker, Hearts’ Lawrence Shankland might be considered a viable option by some supporters, but that feels like a moot point.
The top and bottom of this whole situation is that Sunderland are trying to grow and develop a team by placing faith in youth, allowing them to enjoy the good times and stick together through the bad.
We aren’t a poor team and the squad isn’t colossally weaker than it was last season, but we are inconsistent, which is simply a byproduct of the current profile of the group.
However, beat Huddersfield in midweek and then conquer The Den on Saturday, and the world will be back on its axis. Such is the nature of following this great club of ours.