7 opponents destined for bigger things as Sunderland see recruitment opportunities in League One
When the verdict on Sunderland's dramatic decline was delivered, recruitment was just about top of everybody's list.
The Black Cats bought the wrong players and the wrong kind of players.
Their scouting was unimaginative, the lack of direction and philosophy stark.
Martin Bain said it was primarily a question of money by the end, but that only made it all the stranger that the lower divisions and lower profile leagues in the rest of the UK were largely ignored, particularly when they have proved to be happy hunting grounds for successful Sunderland teams of years gone by.
Of course, those signed from the EFL in the latter years were far from a success.
Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, James Vaughan and Jason Steele were all disappointing additions but Sunderland’s Legaue One journey so far is proving that there are gems to be discovered.
Jon McLaughlin and Jack Baldwin are just two players who look like they can not only deliver this season, but as the Black Cats look to move up the leagues under Jack Ross.
That Sunderland have had to fight so hard in so many of their games has only underlined that there is plenty of quality elsewhere in the division, too.
So it was reassuring to hear Jack Ross say last week that Sunderland’s recruitment work has noted players who have impressed them already this season.
Ross was not saying that the Black Cats were preparing a spending spree; merely outlining the constant and methodical work his team do when it comes to planning for future windows.
Eyeing talent to be moulded from the lower leagues, players hungry, willing to learn and seeing Sunderland as a step up, should be absolutely central to that vision.
Detractors of the quality in League One may well point to Ipswich Town’s flatlining experiment.
Paul Hurst was appointed with a clear brief of using his lower league knowledge to build a younger, hungrier (and cheaper) side.
They have looked out of their depth this season, but any successful squad has balance and in isolation, players like Gwion Edwards have looked capable of stepping up.
Any assessment of Ipswich Town’s struggles should also be balanced against the likes of Bournemouth, who even now thrive with players who have been part of their journey through the divisions.
Take a look, too, at some of the other star names in the Championship this season.
Kemar Roofe & Bradley Dack both sit towards the top end of the goalscoring rankings.
Jack Marriott, signed by Derby County from Peterborough in the summer, has taken a while to get going but is now making a major impression.
As Sunderland move forward into the next two, three, four windows, it will be about balancing experience and youth.
They may well revisit loans from top Premier League clubs, a pragmatic, cost-effective move providing the blend is healthier than in recent seasons.
They will also unquestionably bring in proven talent for the level they are playing at.
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That is essential for any team, but from what we have seen so far this season Jack Ross should continue to trust his judgement of players from north of the border and the talent in Legaue One should not be overlooked.
Much of the work at Sunderland since Stewart Donald’s taeover has been about getting back to basics.
That should apply to recruitment, too.,
This unexpected stint in League One should be used as a chance to refocus on an untapped minefield of talent.
PHIL’S PICK OF THE LEAGUE ONE TALENT SO FAR
PATRICK BAUER (Charlton)
Easily capable of stepping up a division. Blackburn and Bolton tried to make that happen in the summer. You suspect they won’t be the last.
JACK PAYNE (Bradford)
On loan from huddersfield, so perhaps not a League One player in the truest sense of the description. But in a desperately poor, long-ball team he looked superb. Has a low centre of gravity and outstanding vision. Man of the match despite missing a penalty.
PELLY RUDDOCK (Luton)
Luton impressed on the second day of the season with their powerful and organised diamond. Ruddock, linked with Leeds and Nottingham Forest in the past, was the pick of the bunch. Strong and good on the ball.
ASH HUNTER (Fleetwood)
No player has more assists than the talented 23-year-old.
SIRIKI DEMBELE (Peterborough)
Woeful on his appearance at the Stadium of Light, hooked at half-time. But was playing out of position and is an electrifying talent. Needs coaching but has all the attributes.
LYLE TAYLOR (Charlton)
Opted to stay in the capital this summer rather than move up to Sunderland but he is a Championship striker in waiting. All round game is tremendous.
JOHN MARQUIS (Doncaster)
Great feet, intelligent movement and clearly has an eye for goal.