Assessing the main threats to Sunderland’s promotion hopes after frenetic League One transfer window

The late signing of Will Grigg changed Sunderland supporters’ perception of the January window in an instant.

Wednesday, 6th February 2019, 9:30 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 4:51 pm
Daniel Stendel Barnsley v Bradford City. Checkatrade Trophy. EFL Trophy. 13 November 2018. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Josh Maja replaced with one of the few attainable players who could be realistically expected to maintain his goalscoring form over the second half of the season.

Elsewhere improvements were made in most departments and left most on Wearside optimistic about the promotion push.

Of course, a January in which Sunderland rarely played league football has left them chasing the pack at the top of the table.

They have games in hand, yes, but the pressure will be on as a hectic February begins in earnest.

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The January window was a frenetic affair and it will be interesting to see how the business done by those in the top seven, currently well clear of the rest of the division, affects the promotion race.

At the start of the month most would have predicted that it was the beginning of the end for Luton Town.

Losing manager Nathan Jones, the inspiration behind their remarkable form spanning two divisions, looked as if it would derail their campaign and perhaps even more significantly, leave them vulnerable to bids for key figures.

Yet caretaker manager Mick Harford has cleverly stuck with the system and personnel that was gathering so much momentum.

A club legend, he has prevented the mood turning sour after the loss of Jones and they have gone from strength to strength.

George Moncur looks an excellent signing, Kazenga LuaLua has thrived after Danny Hylton picked up a suspension and a raft of late loans adds depth to their options.

They are currently ahead of every other team in the league on just about every key indicator and are curently setting a formidable pace.

No one looks more likely to pip the Black Cats to the top position on current form.

Assessing Barnsley’s business is far harder.

The loss of Moncur and Brad Potts to Preston in the early part of the month suggested a difficult window ahead and while they have not replaced those players, they have still kept their best weapons.

Kieffer Morre and Cauley Woodrow up front, Ethan Pinnock and Liam Lindsay at the back.

Their squad is still arguably the best in the league and their ever-improving form is ominous for the rest of the top seven. Their firepower surely makes them as likely as anyone to go on the kind of long winning run that can blow other teams away.

Suffering tough months were Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth.

While Jonny Williams will be a canny addition for Charlton if fit, the loss of Karlan Grant will have come as a hammer blow for Lee Bowyer.

Having the best striking partnership in the league (Grant thrived alongside Lyle Taylor) was Bowyer’s trump card as they looked to make up a lot of ground on Sunderland and the like.

Without an adequate replacement and with key long-term injuries, the rest of the season looks an uphill battle.

Seeimingly surging into the distance at Christmas, Portsmouth have endured an awful month on the pitch and Sunderland will now expect to get past them once they have played their games in hand.

Kenny Jackett created a juggernaut in the early part of the campaign, rarely changing their line up.

That produced remarkable consistency but backfired when a number of loanees struggling for minutes were recalled. An injury to target man Oli Hawkins also laid bare the lack of depth in the squad.

They have been active in replacing those outgoings, but are relying on Omar Bogle to recapture past form and the likes of Bryn Morris and Andy Cannon to quickly make a big step in their careers.

The outsiders in the race had quiet months but that will suit Doncaster Rovers down the ground, who kept hold of key figures and added some promising loanees.

At this point they look better equipped than Peterborough United, whose long-term form is shocking.

Grant McCann’s side would make for an awkward play-off opponent.

It is set to be a tense finale to the season.

No one invested so heavily that you expect them to surge clear of the pack, and Sunderland will feel that their additions leave them in a good place to build up momentum as they catch up on games played.

It’s hard to argue that anyone has brought in the quality to match that of Leadbitter, Morgan and Grigg.

The question is whether Ross can blend them into the side fast to enough to compete with the likes of Luton and Barnsley, who are benefitting from greater familiarity and understanding in their ranks.