David Jones: Balance sheet looks healthier but Sunderland needed to sign top striker to secure survival

Steven Fletcher
Steven Fletcher
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Sunderland were one top striker away from having a brilliant January transfer window.

Perhaps I’m being greedy after seeing five new signings arrive for an outlay of £15m, but a month which has also seen eight players depart either permanently or on loan represents some excellent trading.

I’m not party to the balance sheet, but it’s safe to assume Sunderland’s wage bill will now have a much healthier look to it and the long term financial position should be far rosier as a result, regardless of which division we are playing in next season.

I’m sure Sam Allardyce would have taken the clear out even further had he been able, but you have to applaud the efficient way he and his team have made such an impact on the squad in the space of a month.

But it was my hope that with so many players leaving the club, enough money would have been freed up to sign the calibre of striker upon whom we could rely to fire us to safety.

Of course that’s easier said than done, how many strikers were Newcastle linked with before settling for Seydou Doumbia on loan?

Even Leicester, top of the league with money to spend, but over reliant on Jamie Vardy, couldn’t find a top striker to share the goalscoring burden.

It seems that all the clubs fighting relegation – bar Aston Villa, who signed no one – were all agreed that goals will keep you in the Premier League. Newcastle we mentioned, but also Bournemouth who picked up two strikers early for £15m and Norwich who shelled out £8.5m for Steven Naismith and took Patrick Bamford on loan, and Swansea took Paloschi from Chievo for £7.5m.

In that context it might appear odd that Sunderland were willing to allow both Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher to depart with Dame N’Doye the only striker coming the other way.

But these are two players who have never looked capable of plundering the weight of goals required to keep Sunderland in the Premier League.

Graham will be an excellent addition in the Championship for Blackburn, but he clearly wasn’t for Sunderland as one goal in three years will testify.

Fletcher will have a much harder challenge establishing himself in France, particularly given it looks like he will have to continue his supporting role, this time behind the Belgian hotshot Michy Batshuayi, one of the most talked about strikers in Europe.

Allowing Fletcher to join Marseille on Deadline Day might appear a bold move by Allardyce, but the Scotland striker hasn’t scored since November and seems to have long since lost the faith of a manager who hadn’t used him at all since Boxing Day.

Sadly, Fletcher was never able to sustain the form of his very early days on Wearside; 11 goals in his debut campaign and a total of 12 in the subsequent two and a half seasons.

Not enough for a player who cost £12m and of course significant wages which Sunderland will be entirely free from in the summer.

When analysing Sunderland’s mismanagement of recent years, it’s easy to throw mud at Roberto De Fanti, but for balance it’s important to remember that Martin O’Neill spent the £17m on Graham and Fletcher which will not be recouped.

The most eye catching capture of the window for Sunderland was Wahbi Khazri, who could potentially be our most exciting signing.

Khazri is a Tunisian, born and brought up on Corsica. It’s an island known for its passionate people where, unless you’re a monied tourist, life can be tough.

It’s his silky skills Khazri that has earned a reputation rather than his steel: only Angel Di Maria is credited with more assists than Sunderland’s new boy in Ligue 1 this season, where he’s made almost three key passes per game.

And at 24 he is the perfect age to be trying a new experience after four seasons in the top division in France.

Jermain Defoe should thrive on the service, but it will take more than that to improve our fortunes.

It has now been 10 games since Sunderland last kept a clean sheet and with two new centre-halves arriving in January, that will be the top priority for Allarydce moving forward.