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Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Is the next fortnight make or break for Sunderland’s season?

“The next two weeks are arguably the biggest of the campaign so far, and they are likely to have the largest impact come the end of the season,” writes Finlay Anderson.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

“We want a striker”, chanted the travelling away contingent at Portman Road.

The cries were clear.

Conor Chaplin had thundered a header past Anthony Patterson to give Ipswich the lead on a night that had promised so much for the Black Cats after 26 minutes.

Sunderland had fared rather well in the opening exchanges, limiting the number of chances and slowing the tempo of Ipswich’s play down.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

And when Jack Clarke ferociously fired the Black Cats into the lead, it felt like it might be a pivotal evening in Sunderland’s campaign.

Yes, Ipswich were five in the league without a win and with some key players out, but Portman Road has been a tough place to go this season, especially under the lights and having dropped out of the top two earlier in the day.

Yet, as Clarke did what Clarke has been doing best this season, you could only imagine that this may be a statement away win and something to really kick-start the Michael Beale reign.

But dreams were all they were, as Kayden Jackson levelled only seven minutes later, and from there, Beale’s side were never really in the contest, with Chaplin’s winner sealing the three points for the Tractor Boys.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Portman Road Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

And that is where most fans’ post-match frustrations lie - the lack of cutting edge once more - and it’s why those striker-directed chants may prove so decisive.

So far this season, three head coaches have sat in the dugout, and it seems all three have found that Sunderland have the same problem, and it lies at the top end of the pitch.

Just as Nazariy Rusyn was looking to have turned a corner with his first goal against Preston and a hard-working performance in the derby, he was dropped to the bench, and brought on with 84 minutes gone.

For most of the second half, the threat in front of goal was one of the weakest of the campaign so far, and after previous weeks earlier in the season of mass shots and no goals, it seems as though Sunderland’s season is beginning to stagnate.

And so, the next two weeks are arguably the biggest of the campaign so far, and they are likely to have the largest impact come the end of the season.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Portman Road Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

Both on and off the pitch, there are big issues to solve and big challenges to overcome for both the playing staff and the hierarchy.

If the club wants to finish inside the top six, they simply need to end the striker conversation and recruit an experienced one with Championship pedigree.

A new body in the centre of midfield, and a look into the loan market for a full-back may also be needed, while holding onto Jack Clarke until the summer at the earliest (unless an offer that the club simply cannot refuse comes in) is a must.

Whilst the January transfer window incomings are pivotal, Sunderland need a response on the pitch, and with two home games on the horizon, it could be the perfect time to recapture some of their early-season form and really stake their claim for a top six finish.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hull on Friday is a game that Beale must overcome and win to ease some of the outside pressure and give him another week on the training pitch to implement more of his ideas.

Stoke the week after is set to be another tough game, with the Potters unbeaten in their last seven with the appointment of Steven Schumacher seemingly having an immediate effect.

After Beale’s stuttered start, he needs to start picking up results and finding answers that don’t always revolve around Jack Clarke.

The January window will be telling on the last point, as the next two weeks look set to determine whether we can fulfil the pre-season ambition of a play-off spot.

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