The four key Sunderland storylines set to unfold on vital transfer deadline day
Jack Ross imagined that this would be a quiet January for Sunderland but it has not quite panned out that way.
With just hours before the winter window shuts, a number of key matters are still to be resolved.
We run through the four main ones...
THE BIG ONE
Last January Sunderland were in dire need of a striker.
Their top scorer had departed and a replacement had been painfully tough to find.
A failed move for Oli McBurnie ultimately saw Ashley Fletcher arrive with a matter of minutes to spare, but the Middlesbrough striker wasn’t enough to stave off relegation.
This year the deadline day search for attacking reinforcements feels equally vital.
The new regime have been unfortunate to be left in such a weak position when it came to Josh Maja, but his departure has left the squad with a major weakness.
For many supporters, recruiting a genuine and proven goalscorer is a vital test for the popular hierarchy.
So far, they have improved the squad where required.
Jimmy Dunne adding height and physicality at the back, Lewis Morgan a much-needed fresh option in attack.
Grant Leadbitter drive and experience in the middle.
Yet the last deal is the most important of all.
Without Maja’s goals, Sunderland would be some way off the promotion pace and it will need a fine striker to replace him.
Will Grigg remains the top target.
The Black Cats have felt all month that there is a deal to be done but negotiations have dragged on.
Wigan have increasingly played hardball and so other targets have come onto the horizon.
The excellent John Marquis at Doncaster Rovers, Tom Eaves at Gillingham.
No side will want to lose such a key player at this stage of the window.
Stewart Donald says he remains ‘very optimistic’ he can give Jack Ross the firepower he needs.
The success of his efforts will go a long way to defining the mood on Wearside as the window shuts.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
With only Charlie Wyke and Duncan Watmore currently on the books, Ross knows a second striker would be a significant help in the final months of the season.
The arrival of Lewis Morgan at least freshens up his attacking options but he has also lost the versatile Jerome Sinclair.
It remains very much the club’s intention to sign two forwards on deadline day, with one of those certain to be a loan.
A medical is booked for Thursday and the player is understood to be a young Premier League striker with reasonable experience at senior level.
Middlesbrough’s Stephen Walker is one player who has been linked but the Black Cats would ultimately want a more proven forward.
Signing strikers is the hardest business in football and the stakes are high for Sunderland.
One decision Ross has already made is to keep the promising Benjamin Kimpioka in his ranks.
The Swede has impressed so far this season and brings the added benefit of being able to play through the middle or off either flank.
Stewart Donald and the Sunderland hierarchy vowed to invest in the January window but there is also a need to keep in mind the bigger financial picture.
The vast majority of Premier League contracts are gone, and the sage with wantaway pair Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji reached a satisfactory conclusion for Black Cats when they joined Guingamp at the start of the month.
The few who remain from the top-tier era have established themselves as important parts of the side under Jack Ross.
Oviedo is different as the Black Cats boss clearly sees Reece James the most reliable option at left-back, in this division at least.
With the very highly-rated Denver Hume back in full training, Oviedo is arguably third choice.
On his wages that is simply unsustainable.
If there is a willing suitor on deadline day
There is interest from abroad and the Championship, as well as Celtic.
As it stands this is by far the most likely outgoing for the Black Cats.
Though currently too light up front, Sunderland’s squad is heavy in numbers elsewhere.
The arrival of Grant Leadbitter and the return of George Honeyman from injury means that central midfield is seriously well stocked. There is also the return of Luke O’Nien to an advanced role to consider.
All of which raises the question of whether a late loan could be possible.
Both Ethan Robson and Bali Mumba are likely to have been pushed down the pecking order by Leadbitter’s arrival.
Mumba is unlikely to leave, with Jack Ross feeling that at this early stage of his development, training with the seniors and dropping occasionally into the U23s is the best thing for him.
For Robson, regular gametime is key as a reaches a critical point in his career.
Cruel luck has denied him a real go this season but tall and tenacious, he offers a different option for Ross in the run-in, should he decide to keep him around.
Dundee are keen if, as seems likely, he leaves on a short-term deal.
The Black Cats will also have a decision to make on Max Stryjek.
Ross believes the young goalkeeper has a first team future on Wearside and he impressed on loan at Eastleigh earlier in the season.
Should Robbin Ruiter see his contract through to the summer, as seems likely, then there is a decision to be made as to whether it is time for Stryjek to get a proper go in league football.
The arrival of Jimmy Dunne has also left Sunderland with a number of centre-back options; opportunities seemingly limited for Alim Ozturk and Glenn Loovens.
As of yet there has been no suggestions of a move for either.