David Jones: Striker now the priority as Sunderland will look to outfox Leicester in season opener

Connor Wickham, who signed for Crystal Palace.
Connor Wickham, who signed for Crystal Palace.
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Christmas comes early for football fans this season.

There’s nothing like the anticipation and excitement of the opening weekend, but it feels slightly strange kicking off the Premier League with over three weeks still remaining in the transfer window.

It means the onus was on clubs this summer to get their transfer business completed as early as possible, to hit the ground running.

And that’s why, as a Sunderland fan, I was pleased to see Connor Wickham complete his move to Crystal Palace on Monday.

It had seemed Dick Advocaat had reached deadlock in his attempt to improve his squad, with all the noises emanating from the Stadium of Light suggesting no more new recruits would be arriving until one or two left the building.

In truth, Wickham would have been near the bottom of the list of those I wanted to see leave given his youth and his obvious talent, but those same qualities made him Sunderland’s biggest saleable asset.

It’s a great shame that we never saw the best of Wickham, only in a short flurry of goals which helped Gus Poyet’s team beat the drop in 2013-14.

And we will never know if given the chance to play through the middle from the start of last season, rather than covering a position on the left, Wickham could have developed to become the top player.

I wish him well: it’s a good move for him, a fresh start he clearly needed, and it’s good business for Sunderland too.

Crucially, for the same money, I think we can do better.

Hopefully, Wickham won’t be the last to leave before the window closes, but it will be fascinating to see how that money (fee and wage) is reinvested in the short term.

Quite clearly, with Yann M’Vila and Leroy Fer seemingly on the verge of signing, strengthening the team’s spine is Advocaat’s first priority.

M’Vila was some years ago a much hyped defensive midfielder linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, but his career seems to have stalled after his move to Russia.

Like Younes Kaboul before him, with that pedigree behind him, he’s surely worth a gamble.

I’d be concerned about the mentality of a player like Fer who, though clearly talented, has been relegated in his only two seasons in English football.

I would back the strong discipline of his fellow Dutchman Advocaat to take his game to the next level.

As I’ve said before, the next priority has to be a top striker and the good news is Lee Congerton still has time to get it done; the sooner the better.

In some ways it’s no bad thing playing away from home on the opening weekend.

Remember Fulham a couple of years ago? All the optimism around Paolo Di Canio’s tenure was sucked away in 90 minutes when a fellow relegation candidate won at the Stadium of Light.

Imagine then the damage Sunderland could inflict upon Leicester; a club who celebrated a remarkable escape from relegation by sacking the manager who’d masterminded it.

Nigel Pearson was a popular man among Leicester fans, if not always the media, and the scrutiny will be intense around Claudio Ranieri if he doesn’t start well.

All the pressure is on the home team who, let’s not forget, took more points (19) from the last eight games of last season than any other side in the Premier League.

They looked dead and buried at the start of April before something clicked for them.

Some suggested it was the steadying influence of Robert Huth in defence, or perhaps a change in formation which saw them switch to three at the back, protected by Esteban Cambiasso at the base of midfield.

With Cambiasso gone they are looking for a new leader and Ranieiri hasn’t been shy to splash the cash.

Let’s hope their new arrivals take longer to bed in than ours do!

A point at the King Power Stadium wouldn’t be the worst start to the season, but I have a feeling Sunderland can catch Leicester cold and sneak all three, then truly it would feel like Christmas.