Sunderland’s Richardson set for central role against Wigan

Kieran Richardson
Kieran Richardson
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STEVE BRUCE could move Kieran Richardson into a central role this weekend as he looks to boost the goal threat in a game Sunderland desperately need to win.

The Black Cats have failed to score in their last two games and the lack of goals is becoming a concern with the manager.

Manager Bruce, proud owner of the fifth best defence in the league, said: “We seem to have shored things up well at one end, but now we need to look at the other end to find ways of getting more goals because that’s proving to be our Achilles heel at the moment.”

Premier League whipping boys Wigan will come to the Stadium of Light on Saturday with their sights set on defending in numbers – just like Fulham did in last weekend’s goalless draw.

Having lost eight of their last nine games and not won away all season, their first priority will be to frustrate.

And Bruce knows that he needs to put out a side on Saturday which will offer as strong a cutting edge as possible to break down what is likely to be stubborn opposition.

Stephane Sessegnon partnered on-loan Arsenal frontman Nicklas Bendtner in the goalless draw against Fulham, but the Benin international looked better when he was switched to the left wing and was able to run at defenders.

And that, along with the attacking threat Richardson can provide through the centre, has given Bruce food for thought.

“Against Fulham, I started with Kieran wide on the left and Stephane up front playing off Nicklas,” said Bruce. “So I could simply switch them round against Wigan.

“That’s a possibility or, alternatively, I could play Kieran in the middle of midfield because he is capable of getting goals from there.

“You could see that at the weekend when he found himself in a more central position inside the box and he hit the bar with a header.

“We know that scoring goals is a problem we have to address and that we have to improve on.

“We just need that little bit of stardust and sparkle in front of goal because in the Premier League, you don’t get stacks and stacks of chances.

“On Saturday, we created four or five, but the disappointing thing was that we didn’t take one.”

The versatile Richardson, who has spent much of his time at left-back this term, got off the mark this season when he scored Sunderland’s consolation goal in September’s 2-1 defeat at Norwich.

He has shown himself to be a more than capable finisher on his day, although inconsistency from game to game has prevented him being regularly deployed either in a central midfield play-making role, or as the man playing behind the main striker.

But he responded superbly last season when called on in a striker crisis – scoring both goals in Sunderland’s 2-1 win at Blackpool in January and also netting twice from the same position in a 2-0 win over Portsmouth at the Stadium of Light a few seasons ago.

Bruce will consider all options having accepted Sunderland are limited in attacking option since the departure of Asamoah Gyan in September and an injury to £8m summer buy Connor Wickham earlier this month.

Long-term injury victim Fraizer Campbell resumed full training this week but will have to be eased back into action after 15 months out.

And that leaves Bendtner and Ji Dong-Won (pictured) – who is still adapting to life in the Premier League – as Sunderland’s only out-and-out senior strikers, with youngster Ryan Noble also making his way back after injury and considered too raw at this stage to be handed more than bit parts.

Bruce said: “Unfortunately, the injury to Connor has left us a little bit light up front.

“As far as Ryan is concerned, anyone who knows me will tell you that, if there is a promising youngster, I will give him his chance. The thing with Ryan is that we have to wait until he develops physically.

“When he develops and grows, he will be a very good player, but we just have to be patient.”