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Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Is Sunderland’s indifferent start to the season really a surprise?

“The striker issue will I think define our season more than last year, and the next few days will be crucial as to how it unfolds,” writes Mark Wood.

Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images

After the indifferent start that Sunderland have made to the new campaign, fans are watching the final week of the transfer window keenly in the hope that we can bring in the reinforcement(s) needed to help kick-start our season.

One obvious problem is the same one we faced for much of last season - that we are playing without an out-and-out striker. In the second half of last season we did play Joe Gelhardt, who did improve as he found a way to fit into the team, but even by his own admission he was more of a number 10 who liked to drop back and take and make a pass, rather than get on the end of the chances created.

This season despite signing Semedo and Mayenda the problem has not been rectified, and at the time of writing the club are still trying to bring in someone to fill in for Ross Stewart while we await his recovery from injury. And for all the talk of how we will get it together when everyone is fit, firstly it is worth pointing out that everyone being fit only occurs for a short spell - if it all - in any given season.

Second, there is also no guarantee of the fitness of Ross Stewart for the rest of the season following his recovery from a serious Achilles injury, or indeed him still being a Sunderland player when the transfer window shuts with the latest rumours gearing up to overdrive.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A second problem is that we miss Amad. We were always going to, especially his outstanding ability to score crucial goals - and in that I mean game-changing goals such as the opener, the equaliser or the winner - but this should have been offset with a fit striker in the side. Some have commented that he wasn’t the greatest at pressing the opposition defence like a normal number 10. Maybe. But then he was pretty decent going forward and the goals he scored more often than not got the points.

With Alex Prichard looking like he is deemed surplus to requirements, it would seem our number 10 spot this season will be filled by either Jobe Bellingham or Bradly Dack and we can expect to see both given a run in that role in various spells.

One other issue for want of a better word, is that last season because of injuries we played a very makeshift defence at times. Luke O’ Nien proved himself to be a more than able stand-in at centre back - so much so, that Tony Mowbray himself stated that he saw O’Nien as a defender.

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images

This season Tony Mowbray has put his faith in O’Nien in central defence because he loves his ability to make raking passes from the back, a feature we have seen in the opening games this season. But here is a point that is going to be down to everyone’s own personal opinion of the matter, but I will not be convinced that Luke O’Nien is a better defender than Danny Batth, or for that matter when fit - Aji Alese.

Last season we were forced to play O’Nien in central defence because there was nobody else who could do it. This season it's through our own choice despite an option sat on the bench who in O’Nien’s own words is ‘a big brick wall’.

To be clear, I love Luke O’Nien. We all do. His attitude is the antithesis of that of many of the players who took us down from the Premier League and straight down through the Championship. If we had eleven Luke O’Niens back then, it would never have happened. He will play anywhere that he is asked, the fans love his enthusiasm and love for the club, and now he is even every dog's favourite lifeguard.

He has done okay in our opening games and you can't really say that any of the goals that we have conceded so far have been down to him. But would someone like Danny Batth have got a last-gasp block in, or cleared the danger before it became that, or have had the experienced eye to organise his fellow defenders?

I’m just not convinced that the benefit of having a centre back who can pass the ball well outweighs not having one who can be a rock alongside Dan Ballard. If Tony Mowbray thinks it is vital to have a ball-playing centre back, then I hope he goes for Aji Alese when he is fit.

With all these factors - still no striker, deciding to go with the stand in centre back of last season - we essentially have last season's team minus Amad, with Bellingham or/and Dack trying to fill his shoes at the moment, and it hasn’t been a surprise that we have struggled to get going yet.

The striker issue will I think define our season more than last year, and the next few days will be crucial as to how it unfolds.


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