Well, you can’t accuse Kristjaan Speakman of taking the easy option, can you?
After the summer’s gamble to go into the first half of the season with just two strikers backfired so spectacularly, the decision to go into the second half of the campaign with just one takes a decent pair of cajones.
On the surface, it looks to be an unnecessary risk - and one which, in all likelihood, makes a playoff push a far greater challenge unless Joe Gelhardt turns out to be some sort of injury-immune super striker with magical powers. Stranger things have happened.
Twenty-four hours ago, we all expected at least one striker to turn up at the AOL yesterday - most of us really wanted two to avoid a potential rerun of September and October where we played seven games with no strikers involved, won only one and scored seven.
But no. We’ve decided to risk it.
We’ve been fulsome in our praise for the work Speakman, Stuart Harvey and the team have done over the past few windows. They’ve done a brilliant job, have transformed the squad, brought in some quality players and got a squad together capable of playing some of the best football we’ve ever seen a Sunderland side play. Nothing that happened yesterday – or didn’t happen – changes that fact.
That doesn’t mean everything they do is correct – nothing in football is – and they’re going to get things wrong now and again.
Whether they have on this occasion remains to be seen in reality – at face value, it doesn’t look great.
Yes, it’s not like playing Football Manager, and yes, the deal’s got to be right in the short and long term, but Stewart’s injury on Saturday made the recruitment of another striker a virtual necessity rather than nice to have.
And, you’d have hoped we had names ready to move on, and backups to those names, in the event of Stewart – or any other player – either moving on or getting injured.
Now, of course, it’s easy to be pissed off with the lack of forward line incomings, but think back a few years to the Netflix-covered deadline day, and ask yourself what would you prefer? Neither is ideal, but I’d sooner go into the rest of the season as we are than have repeated the Grigg mistake. Clubs knew we were desperate after Saturday, prices will have gone up.
But surely there was a happy medium somewhere?
It’s not just a deadline day issue, however – we’re in this situation primarily because we’ve not signed a permanent first-team striker since Ross Stewart arrived two years ago. And that’s puzzling, given how good our recruitment has been all over the rest of the pitch. Are young strikers more difficult to bring in? Maybe. We got Max Thompson from Burnley in the summer, and he perfectly fits ‘the model’ – but he’s struggled with injury. And, even when he was fit during the autumn, Mowbray was rather critical of him when asked whether he’d be featuring. It wasn’t Mowbray’s usual approach, it seemed out of character. Something there doesn’t stack up.
It’s a testament to the job Speakman, Harvey and the rest of the team have done that last year, we weren’t too happy with Tom Flanagan’s departure, because it left us short at the back!
That turned out ok, but the early season injuries to Stewart and Simms - and the results we picked up as a consequence - have understandably got everyone nervously looking towards the prospect of taking on half a season with just one striker.
Of course, we have new signing Lijadji waiting in the wings, too – but he’s more of a wide player and seemingly a replacement for Amad for next season. So we’ll wait and see how it pans out - and keep our fingers crossed every time Gelhardt gets challenged… We do have a lot of goals in the team, and enough attacking prowess to cause teams problems, but strikers are a different breed and if we need to go into games without one, it’ll cause problems once again.
The notable outgoing yesterday was Bailey Wright, who headed to Rotherham in a loan deal that, given his contract expires in the summer, would seem to single the end to his career at Sunderland.
I think that’s the right move. He’s way down the pecking order here, and wants - needs - to play.
He’s been a model pro for us since his arrival, but has struggled to nail down a regular starting position for anything longer than a few months, even in league one. When he’s had game time this season, he’s looked a bit ropey and made mistakes, which is probably down yo a lack of football as much as anything else.
We’ll miss his experience and his presence off the pitch, though - and with Evans and Stewart sidelined, a lot is going to be asked of Danny Batth in a leadership capacity.
It’s going to be an interesting few months... as usual.