Sunderland need players to step up now after being wrong-footed by Leicester

Adnan Januzaj
Adnan Januzaj
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Sunderland were clearly left surprised and wrong-footed by Leicester’s refusal to crack over Leonardo Ulloa.

It had seemed likely that the Foxes would relent on their fifth choice striker, who had threatened to go on strike, was 30 years old and commanding a decent fee.

Not doing so was a reminder of the luxuries that sound financial management bring.

They didn’t want to sell to a relegation rival, and can afford to absorb the loss they will ultimately make whenever Ulloa does depart the club.

It leaves Sunderland facing the ire of a fanbase that can see their squad has been left underpowered for the relegation fight ahead.

Other than Hull City, and perhaps Middlesbrough, no side in the bottom half has been left unable to strengthen their squad.

Even Hull City, so often this season appearing doomed for the drop, have been offered some comfort in the clearly impressive organisational skills of new manager Marco Silva.

After the move for Ulloa fell through, the Black Cats decided not to throw money at another target they were not convinced on.

Now the challenge is to get more out of talented players who have made little impression on this season so far.

Wahbi Khazri, Fabio Borini and Adnan Januzaj will all have to step up to give Jermain Defoe any chance of firing Sunderland to safety.

Keeping hold of the 34-year-old is by some distance the best business the Black Cats have done this month, and gives them a chance of escaping from the relegation zone.

The major concern is that the support to him is arguably weaker than it ever has been during his time on Wearside. The only time this has been a truly competitive side this campaign is when a target man has provided Sunderland’s defence and midfield with an out ball.

Alongside Duncan Watmore’s high energy, Victor Anichebe gave Moyes a vision of a team he could lift towards mid-table.

Now he has to return to the drawing board, with the Nigerian unlikely to play a significant part at any stage for the rest of the season.

What system will work best in Anichebe’s absence? Let’s be honest: 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 5-3-2 – none have offered a great deal of hope without a supporting striker adept with his back to goal. Another blank – albeit in a good draw last night against Spurs – illustrates Sunderland’s attacking shortcomings.

Throwing money on a high-risk replacement would have been reckless, but the dreaded drop looks closer than ever before.