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Sunderland didn’t blink in the January window, and time will tell if they were right not to

We’ll head into the final seventeen games without our leading striker and top scorer, but as Matt Smith writes, does that represent a failure of the club’s strategy?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

From the moment Ross Stewart suffered another injury setback at Fulham, it was clear that we weren’t going to bring in another striker before the transfer window closed.

In all likelihood, we wouldn’t have brought one in even if he didn’t get injured and nor did we need to, having signed Joe Gelhardt. However, with our need for a replacement laid bare and with only days of the window left, our fate was sealed.

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

Short-term purchases have been part of our DNA for so long that the failure to replace Stewart has understandably been seen by some as a dereliction of duty.

Kristjaan Speakman’s revelation that they were involved in negotiations over a number of potential replacements only compounds this supposed failure- namely an unwillingness to spend what was needed to ensure we weren’t left short.

For fans, signing a striker is a statement of intent and is seen as the holy grail of transfer business.

However, with centre forwards often more overpriced than any other player, it’s a position that offers the least value for money in a market that’s often hazardous for buying clubs.

The market is tilted even more in favour of selling clubs during the January window, and certainly during the final days when a prospective buying club is seen to be in need of a striker.

Sunderland Unveil New Signings Will Grigg and Kazaiah Sterling Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It wouldn’t have been like this with previous regimes.

Owners struggling to persuade other clubs to pay inflated transfer fees for their target man would be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of us making a jaw-dropping offer that no one in their right mind could refuse.

Sunderland sides of the past would also be a lot more desperate if they’d recently lost their main man to injury.

Typically, such a team would play with two up front ahead of a solid but uninspiring midfield unit. With little in the way of a plan B and an over-reliance on goals from our number nine, the failure to land a replacement, however inadequate, would be catastrophic for the second half of our season.

From the perspective of a striker considering a move to Sunderland, the temptation would’ve also been far stronger in previous years.

Game time would be a given due to the lack of alternatives and an innate reluctance to entrust the role to a talented but raw and untested youngster on the fringes of the first team.

The reality for anyone weighing up a move to Wearside before January’s window slammed shut was very different.

Strikers by nature are rarely short of confidence but it would require not just a sizeable ego to assume that they’d be chosen ahead of the likes of Gelhardt and Amad, but also an ignorance of the current regime’s faith in youth and its commitment to succession planning.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I wouldn’t feel too confident if we lined up with Jewison Bennette up front, much less Max Thompson, in any league game between now and the end of the season, not least because it would suggest a recurrence of our bad luck with injuries.

On the other hand, it would certainly be consistent with the club’s emphasis on giving youth a chance. Such players were signed with a long-term plan in mind and giving them an opportunity, either through a loan move or first team experience, is critical to their development.

As Sunderland fans, we’re accustomed to the lack of value in the transfer market, so badly have we played it over the past decade, and that led us to the lowest period in our history.

Fortunately we survived and there seems to be a determination to run the club in a way that prevents a repeat scenario.

Far from repeating the mistakes of the past, the refusal to prioritise a ‘quick fix’ over the more considered approach of identifying genuine value alongside compatibility with an identifiable style of play and with existing talent, shows how much has been learned from the recent past.

Furthermore, money saved on transfer fees is money to be invested in wages- a far more reliable indicator of player quality and particularly pertinent in the midst of contractual negotiations with Stewart.

It may be disappointing but by no means unsurprising that none of our long-term targets were available at the right price. However, our recruitment team’s business so far suggests that our next foray into the market will be worth the wait.


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