Phil Smith: Simon Grayson’s targets raise hopes of a revival on the Sunderland wings

Winger Carlos Edwards, here scoring a memorable winner against Burnley in April 2007, was superb in Sunderland's last promotion campaign
Winger Carlos Edwards, here scoring a memorable winner against Burnley in April 2007, was superb in Sunderland's last promotion campaign
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When was the last time Sunderland had a winger of genuine speed and craft?

That is, not a talented playmaker shunted out to the wing, but a player fleet of foot happy to hug the touchline, isolate defenders, take them on and deliver crosses.

Will Buckley was perhaps the last with the profile, though the performances disappointed.

It is not a trend unique to Sunderland. Across the game, inverted wingers, or indeed no wingers at all, have become the norm. The loss is felt more keenly on Wearside, however, where speed and width have been a key part of the modern era’s best teams.

James McClean flickered brightly for a short while. Carlos Edwards is perhaps the last genuinely loved winger. Even then, any comparisons with Nicky Summerbee and Allan “Magic” Johnston, the two great proponents of the early Stadium of Light era, would have seemed far-fetched.

Simon Grayson has, in his early weeks at least, raised hopes that something of a revival is on the way.

In his early pre-season games, Wahbi Khazri has been a crucial part of the attack, the main creative outlet from the left flank. If Khazri stays, he could light up this division, his contest with Hibernian right-back David Gray a mismatch on Sunday.

In all likelihood, though, he will leave, his potential not even close to realised, but the role he has soared in over the past week already looks tailor-made for Aiden McGeady.

It is a role he performed in magnificently for Preston at the end of last season. For many Deepdale fans, Grayson’s departure was galling because it signalled the almost certain end of the Irish winger’s time there.

Erratic he may have been at Everton, but the Irish international has that unique gift that so delights Sunderland fans.

He is capable of beating full-backs on the inside and out, can create goals and score some spectaccular ones himself.

On the other flank, targeting Max Gradel is a similar statement of intent from the new boss.

He may have had his injury problems. but the Ivorian’s goalscoring record is impressive and he is another who can stretch opposition defences.

Of course, it may be that only one, neither or both end up signing or the dotted line, but what is without question is that bringing pace and creativity to the wide areas is a priority.

That is an encouraging sign given the utter dearth of both last season, which featured some of the most numbing football seen at the Stadium of Light.

Duncan Watmore, when he returns to the fold, is another who will fit the bill and Grayson will surely look to exploit his talents.

That Grayson’s appointment was met with general support was not because of an expectation that free-flowing football would be on the horizon.

The manager himself would be the first to admit that pragmatism is his calling card and he will do whatever it takes to get results in a tough league.

Nevertheless, if Grayson can lift the tempo and stretch the game at the Stadium of Light, he will no doubt find a very receptive crowd.

The calibre of player he brings in will clearly not be higher than that in recent years. Had McGeady signed last January, the reaction would have been very different.

In a drastically different environment, however, and at a lower level, there is a chance to thrive and the resurgence of the winger could be something to savour.