The business Sunderland MUST do in final days of the January transfer window if promotion dream is to become a reality
Sunderland’s impressive recent unbeaten run has helped provide fresh hope that the Black Cats could turn this season round into a promotion-winning one after all.
But at the moment that’s all it is. Hope.
Phil Parkinson, against the odds following a dire start, has steadied the ship, settled on a productive and effective 3-4-3 system and core of players that has seen Sunderland go eight games unbeaten.
The goalless draw with Doncaster Rovers was underwhelming, disappointing and felt like a missed opportunity to put pressure on the top two but it did at least keep the momentum going and there was an all important clean sheet too.
Doncaster’s tactics helped nullify Sunderland’s threat, especially out wide, and it highlighted that further strengthening is needed before the 11pm deadline on Friday night.
Free agent Kyle Lafferty has arrived on a short term contract, with Bailey Wright added on loan from Bristol City.
Further reinforcements are desperately needed, however.
Another central midfielder capable of pressing and getting from box-to-box is key, as is cover at left wing-back and the need for more pace, energy and goals in the final third remains important.
The first two will be deemed the priority with another forward only likely if either Will Grigg - wanted by Shrewsbury Town and Salford City - or on loan Reading striker Marc McNulty, a target for Hibernian, move elsewhere before the window closes.
“We are working towards a couple more additions, if we get the ones we want, great, if not we will stick with what we have got,” said Parkinson after the goalless draw with Doncaster.
A couple more signings in key areas would satisfy most of the fanbase but if Sunderland were now to stick, rather than twist, then expect another outcry from supporters.
Understandably so as well, given Stewart Donald, speaking at the start of the month, said: “The most important thing the fans need to know, is we’ve got our scouting organising, we’ve got our targets, we believe that if we have a strong back end and a strong January, with the way the league is setting up, we have a chance.
“We absolutely will strengthen. That’s the most important message for the fans I’m committed to leaving the club in the best possible position.”
Failure to sufficiently add further in the coming days and Sunderland risk missing out on promotion again from League One.
All it would take are injuries to key players and Parkinson’s system and way of playing falls down.
Should Denver Hume pick up an injury, Luke O’Nien could do a job there but then you end up weakening two key positions in the side.
Parkinson needs appropriate cover for first choice midfield pairing Max Power and George Dobson in the middle, given Grant Leadbitter’s limited gametime it appears he is not too high in the manager’s thinking.
Should he stay, Grigg’s goalscoring record remains a concern while neither Charlie Wyke, Lafferty or Duncan Watmore can be deemed prolific goalscorers.
An injury to Chris Maguire, who plays a key role from set pieces too, would be another hammerblow to promotion hopes.
Sunderland’s January business can only be fairly scrutinised once the window closes.
Donald, Parkinson and the recruitment team now have less than five days to secure the two or three key signings needed to maintain promotion ambitions.
Otherwise Donald would have failed in his pledge to leave “the club in the best possible position”.