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Four summer signings, no goals scored in Championship fixtures, a multitude of uncomfortable questions about exactly why things haven’t clicked, and plenty of frustration from the fans.
That’s been the story of our quartet of strikers in summary as Christmas approaches and none of them have hit the net, but as always, the reality is much more nuanced.
From the ongoing consternation at the decision to sell the currently injured Ross Stewart to Southampton to the fact that Nathan Broadhead is enjoying a superb spell of goalscoring form for Ipswich Town, the words ‘Sunderland’ and ‘strikers’ aren’t exactly easy bedfellows at this moment in time.
Nevertheless, we do have the players at our disposal.
A lack of depth isn’t a problem, but all four centre forwards have experienced a variety of struggles and false starts since arriving at Sunderland and the long-since departed Joe Gelhardt’s status as the last Sunderland striker to score a goal (against Huddersfield way back in the spring) is looming larger than ever.
Naturally, it’s less of a problem when we win but in games like Saturday, during which we simply couldn’t make the breakthrough, we either tend to fall back on the argument that they’re either not getting the service, or that they’re simply duds who should be written off or loaned out.
However, patience may well be a virtue here.
For the club, this is as much a question of looking to the future as it as of taking care of the here and now, and for new head coach Michael Beale, it’s one of many questions he’s going to have to try and answer.
However, with games coming thick and fast and the reaction to his appointment hardly universally popular, he’s got little room for manoeuvre at this stage, even if the upcoming fixtures do seem favourable.
Building up the confidence of his misfiring forwards will be no easy task, as well as overseeing a shift in tactics that relies more on direct play, incisive running and sliding balls into space (as Bobby Saxton once famously said) rather than playing too intricately and trying to score the perfect goal.
When January arrives, will we dip into the proceeds from the Stewart transfer and bring in the kind of striker that might satisfy fan demands- assuming such a player actually exists, that is?
It’s very much up in the air but with a run of games to come before then, surely the time has come to ‘pick and stick’, and to offer unequivocal backing to one of the lads who are currently on the books.
With Hemir seemingly and understandably out of first team commission and Mason Burstow’s loan spell from Chelsea not working out as anyone would’ve hoped, that leaves Nazariy Rusyn and Eliezer Mayenda as candidates to fulfil the role, assuming the ‘Jobe Bellingham as a makeshift centre forward’ experiment has run its course.
Of the two, you could argue that Rusyn is more ready, although Mayenda is an exciting prospect in his own right, albeit he’s still making up for lost time following an injury suffered upon his arrival.
The Ukrainian is slightly older and blessed with more experience, and during his first spell of appearances, he did appear to offer something different, with pace and a willingness to harass defenders, and he was unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions against Swansea and Birmingham City.
If Rusyn was given the backing of Beale and could harness his seemingly aggressive approach into something more consistent, as well as sharpening up his finishing, there’s no reason why he can’t end the drought that’s hindered our forward line for the best part of nine months.
Mayenda, on the other hand, looks to be a different kind of forward all together, with more physical presence and a willingness to pull the trigger when he gets into promising positions. Surely his time will come but like Hemir, maybe that won’t be this season, which isn’t a huge issue.
Given how Tony Mowbray struggled to solve this particular problem (although I don’t think his public criticism of the strikers helped), it’s difficult to see Beale waving a magic wand and curing all of our goalscoring ills.
Presumably he’ll have a different approach and hopefully one to which the players will respond. The need isn’t desperate and we aren’t struggling to score as a team, but when a player such as Dan Ballard is nearer the top of your goalscoring charts than an orthodox striker, that’s a puzzle that needs to be solved.
Time will tell, of course, but hopefully Beale and his staff can begin to do that, starting on the training ground this week and against Coventry in the league this Saturday.