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Whether you trust the process or not, they’re going full steam ahead regardless

The club hierarchy took a huge gamble last week and placed massive faith in the current squad and staff to continue doing what they’re good at, with or without the help of some key players. Do you trust the process?

The debate that I’m sure will rumble on until the end of the season surrounds Sunderland’s striker situation, and whether we’re adequately equipped to see out the end of the current campaign.

Whether you agree or disagree with the decision not to bring another striker in, what’s been made very clear is that the hierarchy have stuck all their poker chips on the ‘model’ - and they’re prepared to die on their sword if it means they stick to what they believe is best for the club in the long run.

As a fully paid-up member of the Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman fan club, even I must admit that the decision to not replace Ross Stewart has left me feeling clammy and anxious, but there’s also a part of me that’s incredibly curious to see how the rest of the season plays out.

Make no mistake: allowing an experienced and respected defender to leave when you’ve just lost your captain and your talismanic centre forward for the rest of the season is an almighty gamble.

It’s one they may not recover from if things go Pete Tong and in the process, they lose all the goodwill and credibility that they’ve built up over the past twelve months or so.

But…is it wrong that I kinda like their ballsiness?

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 1st Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

If you’re going to operate in certain way, it takes some gigantic cojones to shut out all of the exterior (and perhaps even some interior) noise to ensure you don’t deviate from your plan, and I admire it.

There’s no doubt that we had options when it came to signing a striker, but none of the players that were available to us fit the data profile of a Sunderland AFC player in 2023.

Some will say that they should’ve signed the best available option, regardless of whether they were the right type of player or not, and the pessimist in me would possibly agree to some extent.

After all, given our luck with injuries this season, it isn’t a stretch to say that we’ll suffer further knocks to key attacking players at some point, which in turn will seriously harm our chances of advancing further up the league table.

That said, there’s probably an even bigger part of me that feels like saying, ‘Good on you for sticking with what you believe in’.

You live and die by your decisions, and we’ve an array of attacking players, almost all of whom are young, skilful lads who enjoy taking people on and creating chances.

Joffy Gelhardt must have mixed feelings about it all.

Millwall v Sunderland Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I don’t doubt that he came here to play games and to be successful, but I doubt he imagined that he’d be tasked with trying to be an adequate replacement for Sunderland’s best player up front.

He’s a completely different profile of forward and because he’s our only option, it goes without saying that we’ll probably have to adapt our style of play to best suit his needs.

With that in mind, just how much needs to change?

Stewart is a big boy but he doesn't play like your traditional target man. He’s more of a ‘false nine’ who drops deep, links play, defends from the front and gets stuck in, but can also mix it, play long and run in behind.

Gelhardt isn’t going to rough defenders up but he’s more than capable of all the other stuff.

He was sold to us by Leeds fans as the modern-day Wayne Rooney - a smaller but rugged centre forward who grafts for the team and is as skilled with the ball in a creative capacity as he is ten yards out from goal.

Elsewhere, everyone else remains.

Amad is now a key player, Jack Clarke just hit a milestone of fifty appearances and has been our most productive wide player this season. Patrick Roberts is coming into his own, and Alex Pritchard is fit and ready to contribute.

Beyond that, we’ve got some capable deputies in Isaac Lihadji, Abdoullah Ba, Jewison Bennette and Chris Rigg. These are lads who are happy to bide their time but are also capable of stepping in and offering us something different.

Some may scoff at the lack of experience but what’s clear is that age doesn’t particularly matter to Tony Mowbray if the talent is there and they work hard. Just look at the example of fifteen-year-old Rigg if you require further proof of the club’s current mentality.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It was made very clear, both in Speakman’s most recent interview and also the various chats that Mowbray has had with the press over the last six days or so that they’re fully behind Sunderland’s young players and their ability to pick up points and manage their way through to the end of the season without ever fearing trouble.

I guess the big frustration that some fans will have surrounds our ambition to get promoted.

Many fans feel that the failure to sign a striker will put paid to any chance of elevation back to the Premier League this season.

Whilst they may be proven right, there are no guarantees in football and the enormous show of faith in the players we do have is surely a massive morale boost to a squad who are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

The question now, I guess, is ‘Do you trust the process?’

Do you trust this owner and the staff who work with him every day to shape the identity of our football club?

I’ll leave that one down to you.


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