PLANNING for the January sales has to be put on ice for the next fortnight.
If Sunderland fail to record at least a couple of wins from their four remaining games in 2013, the question has to be raised at the Stadium of Light over whether buying players to keep the Black Cats in the top flight is worthwhile.
It would be financially irresponsible to do anything less.
Anything less than a points total of around 15 at the turn of the year will leave Sunderland facing a huge task to avoid the drop, regardless of a more appealing run of fixtures over the home straight.
Sunderland don’t want to follow QPR’s lead and spend big in January, only to be lumbered with a series of huge wages in the Championship.
Talk of QPR, who have been subsidised by owner Tony Fernandes’s deep pockets after relegation, facing fines of up to £60million for breaching Financial Fair Play will not have gone unnoticed.
A miserable next two weeks could limit January business to recouping money for players who are out of contract in the summer or on landing those who will be happy to ply their trade in the Championship.
But it’s a balancing act.
If Sunderland’s haul over the next fortnight is decent, then surely the reinforcements have to be parachuted in to give Gus Poyet a fighting chance of extending the club’s seven-year stint in the Premier League.
Poyet has so far been coy over his January intentions.
The head coach is quietly confident that Sunderland will do business in the window, yet has fallen short of naming the quantity of incomings he expects or any priority positions.
But surely the focus for Sunderland’s recruitment team has to be those positions which were at the top of the priority list for many supporters during the summer and even before then – full-backs and central midfield.
Both areas proved to be elusive for director of football Roberto De Fanti during the summer.
Moves for Argentine defenders Lucas Orban and Gino Peruzzi fell through, while Sunderland missed out on Tom Huddlestone when they were in prime position to sign the now Hull midfielder.
Instead, Sunderland were forced to land stop-gap measures in the final throws of the window – Ondrej Celustka and Ki Sung-Yeung arriving on loan, while Andrea Dossena signed on a one-year deal.
Ironically, all three have proved to be decent signings, particularly Ki.
But there are still clear deficiencies in either area.
Ki is a playmaker, yet he is not a goalscorer. Neither is Brighton’s Liam Bridcutt, who continues to be mooted as a likely signing in January.
Sunderland need a man in the middle capable of finding the net, particularly if Poyet primarily persists with a 4-5-1 system.
Craig Gardner is the only central midfielder in Sunderland’s squad who has netted in the Premier League this season.
Those two lying in front of the holding midfielder are given licence to get forward to support the lone striker and Poyet needs players capable of grabbing their share of goals.
It’s been a long-term problem for Sunderland. It’s why Steve Bruce shelled out £6million on Gardner in the summer of 2011.
But the full-backs are also key components of Poyet’s strategy.
Both have been used as supplementary wingers under the Uruguayan, with Sunderland forced to adopt an ambitious attacking philosophy due to their league position.
The full-backs, arguably more than the orthodox widemen, are relied upon to deliver some quality into the penalty area.
But, if they are not doing it, Poyet has minimal options to tinker.
So far, Poyet has been forced to rotate Dossena, Phil Bardsley and Celustka between the two slots.
Dossena, who has added better balance to the defence, is the only natural left-back in Sunderland’s squad.
They need an alternative or a back-up, although that position has become such a problem for Sunderland that even having one left-back on the books is almost refreshing.
There are other areas of the side which require strengthening.
Poyet has no genuine pace to call upon in the wide positions, while three of his centre-halves are well into their 30s. Another injury setback to Wes Brown does not bear thinking about.
But the midfield and full-back areas have to be top of the shopping list.
It just depends on whether the existing players can rack up sufficient points to make any investment financially prudent.