Chris Young’s match analysis: Quality signing can make real difference for Sunderland

Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole battles it out with Leicester's Jeffrey Schlupp
Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole battles it out with Leicester's Jeffrey Schlupp
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QUALITY, rather than quantity, will be Sunderland’s mantra in the upcoming January transfer window.

Those one or two individuals who can make a marked difference to Sunderland’s prospects will be sought, rather than a Pick ‘n’ Mix recruitment drive where hope, not expectation, governs whether any of the new boys turn out to be sweet.

Good.

For too long, Sunderland have regularly entered either winter or summer windows and needed to draft in at least half a team to make up the numbers.

When that is done on a limited budget, then the quality of the recruits inevitably suffers.

While Sunderland are short in a couple of areas, they are not in dire straits. It’s time to invest some money in a player or two who can convert draws into wins.

That’s Sunderland’s big problem at the moment.

Setting aside the Southampton shambles, Sunderland have been a resilient, hard-to-beat team this season, who don’t tend to score a lot, but don’t tend to concede a lot either.

But seven draws out of 12 Premier League outings is too many.

If just two of those had been converted into victories – and Saturday’s stalemate was undoubtedly an opportunity to do that – then Sunderland would be sitting pretty in the top half.

Their neighbours have shown the rewards which stem from nicking the odd goal in tight, evenly-balanced tussles.

An attacking player with raw pace, or a midfielder capable of threading an eye-of-the-needle pass, would make all the difference to a side who have managed to regain their composure from the humbling experience at St Mary’s after five points from the last three games.

The return to fitness of Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez – who Gus Poyet hasn’t been able to call on enough – will help, but it’s a case of the more, the merrier, when it comes to those rare players who single-handedly put points on the board.

If Sunderland could have produced that one elusive breakthrough at Leicester, it would have been just about the perfectly-executed gameplan from Poyet.

In a casual chat with Poyet last week, he mentioned that while in charge at Brighton, the Seagulls faced an “unnamed” side who pressed like madmen for the opening 20 minutes of a game with the backing of their boisterous crowd.

Brighton simply concentrated on keeping possession during that early storm before the home side ran out of puff and Poyet’s side were able to comfortably pick them off.

It was exactly what Sunderland tried to do at the King Power Stadium.

Leicester were epitomised by Duracell Bunny striker Jamie Vardy in the opening 20 minutes on Saturday, as Nigel Pearson’s side constantly pressed the Sunderland defence and almost profited – Wes Brown getting away with one after an awful loose touch.

Sunderland showed little or no ambition during that period. They were simply happy to take the sting out of the hosts.

But, from the midway point of the first half, Leicester ran out of steam.

Poyet’s side enjoyed a spell of domination which was arguably as one-sided as they have mustered all season.

Teams who harbour ambitions of progressing further than annual flirtations with the relegation zone have to take advantage of such periods though.

In fairness, the front three of Connor Wickham, Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson linked up effectively – interchanging positions well, finding space and getting in behind the Leicester full-backs.

Wickham and Johnson certainly looked more comfortable and threatening than they have done for several weeks.

It took one superb save from Kasper Schmeichel to deny Fletcher a fifth goal of the season, while it was a deceptively good stop to keep out an awkward long-range effort from Johnson.

But Sunderland couldn’t regain that ascendancy in the second half.

The Black Cats enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, yet that clear-cut chance eluded them – the ball either didn’t roll for them or there was a lack of precision with the final pass.

Leicester came back into proceedings themselves – Matty James drawing a couple of saves from a once-again solid Costel Pantilimon, while the lively Riyad Mahrez should have done better after leaving Brown grounded on the turf with a clever dummy.

But, as the game wore on, neither side looked willing to risk the fall-out stemming from defeat, for the Holy Grail of three points.

Undoubtedly, an Alvarez or a Giaccherini would have helped Sunderland push harder for victory, particularly as Poyet’s midfielders began to look heavy-legged as they entered the last 20 minutes.

As it was, the finale was rather an anti-climax and simply brought about a sense of what might have been.

Saying that, a point was a better result for Sunderland than Leicester, who need to capitalise on the home games against their bottom-half peers to have a prayer of survival.

There certainly wasn’t sufficient evidence to indicate that Nigel Pearson’s side have enough firepower to beat the drop.

Some credit for that has to go to the Sunderland defence, who were led impeccably by John O’Shea, while Pantilimon also deserves an honourable mention for the confidence he is injecting into the back four.

A first clean sheet since September’s stalemate against Swansea was a big plus point for those involved in the rearguard. It won’t do them any harm whatsoever.

That defensive resilience will be tested to the limit over the next three games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. It was why a victory at Leicester would have been such a handy foundation heading into the quick-fire meetings against that trio.

But, hearteningly, the defensive catastrophes against Southampton and Arsenal have not continued.

Sunderland have got back to being hard to breakdown.

It might not be particularly exhilarating, but, on the back of last season’s rollercoaster, Sunderland needed to start their post-survival journey by being solid, even to the point of being uninspiring, just so they could nestle in that 13-14th area, rather than constantly lingering in the drop zone.

That’s what Poyet’s side have done so far, albeit they will need to produce something special over the next three games to remain there.

There are also signs of progress in the attacking third, with Fletcher arguably playing as well as he has ever done during his Sunderland career.

But just what would be achievable if a genuine, top-class January signing was introduced into this side?

LEICESTER: Schmeichel, De Laet, Morgan, Wasilewski, Konchesky, Schlupp (Knockaert 78), James, Cambiasso, Mahrez, Vardy (Nugent 72), Ulloa (Wood 88). Subs not used: Drinkwater, King, Hamer, Moore. Booked: Vardy (53), De Laet (85)

SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Reveillere, Cattermole, Gomez (Buckley 86), Larsson (Bridcutt 75), Johnson, Wickham, Fletcher. Subs not used: Rodwell, Altidore, Coates, Mannone, Robson. Booked: Larsson (42), Cattermole (61), Fletcher (68)

Attendance: 31,825. Referee: Robert Madley