Chris Young column - Not so easy to solve Sunderland striker problem this summer

Connor Wickham lets fly against Swansea on Saturday. Picture by Corrina Atkinson
Connor Wickham lets fly against Swansea on Saturday. Picture by Corrina Atkinson
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WHY didn’t we sign a striker in the summer?

Over the last fortnight, that question has been machine-gunned by Sunderland supporters after back-to-back blanks.

Neither Steven Fletcher or Jozy Altidore have scored in the Premier League this calendar year, while Connor Wickham is yet to prove that his Great Escape heroics were an indication of what is to come.

When the difference between the bottom dozen or so sides in the top flight will come down to those who can boast a regular scorer, Sunderland are clearly in a fragile position.

Should a new, prolific frontman have been at the top of Poyet and Lee Congerton’s shopping list, rather than at the bottom?

In an ideal world, undoubtedly. But that is the root of the problem itself.

The situation facing Sunderland’s recruitment team during the summer was far from picture-perfect.

There was nothing idyllic about it. It was not Championship Manager.

A staggering 16 players left the club during the close season. None of them were central strikers. They needed to be replaced.

Numerically, Sunderland’s three bodies up front was the only area of the park where Poyet had options.

Every other position needed addressing as a priority.

It was the left-sided forward role vacated by Fabio Borini which has been just as problematic as the central striker at the start of this season.

Evidently, Sunderland’s brokers spent a few hours on that issue.

Even if Poyet and Congerton had wanted to bring in a fresh face to lead the line – which they will privately have given serious consideration to – one of the three existing strikers would have had to be sacrificed.

Four frontmen – when Poyet plays one up front – would have been completely inviable. It’s bad enough at the moment with Danny Graham as a bystander on a hefty pay packet.

But selling Wickham, Fletcher or Altidore presented problems.

There would have been uproar if Sunderland had cashed in on Wickham after finally providing payback (and a sizeable chunk at that) on the £8million invested in the summer of 2011.

And Sunderland would almost certainly have made a hefty loss on the sales of £12m purchase Fletcher or £7m buy Altidore.

With Ellis Short so keen to implement Financial Fair Play, the money reaped from offloading either of the pair would essentially have been all that was available to replace them. It might not have been a lot.

Certainly, there would have been little chance of signing a striker from the domestic market.

Even in the Championship, the £11m sale of Ross McCormack and £12m price tag on Jordan Rhodes were farcical figures.

Sunderland would have had to look to the Continent, where – on the evidence of the early stages of the campaign – there were indeed quality frontmen available; Southampton landing Graziano Pelle for what seems to be a reasonable £8m and West Ham spending £4m on Diafra Sakho.

But there are plenty of duds out there; players who thrive in stodgy European football, yet never adapt to the Premier League’s power and pace.

Sunderland discovered that painfully last summer.

And without wishing to be too tribal, Newcastle don’t seem to have taken note of their rivals’ mistakes this time around.

A Remy Cabella signing may get the juices flowing thanks to a few clips on YouTube and the ringing endorsement from the guy on Twitter who has nothing better to do than watch Ligue 1.

But until these players are tested in the Premier League, they are an utterly unknown quantity.

It’s why any snap judgement on a new signing has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Take Will Buckley, arguably the most underwhelming of Sunderland’s summer captures, but the one who has proved to be the most successful new addition so far this season.

Sunderland’s hierarchy attempted to minimise their transfer risk by concentrating on players with Premier League experience this summer.

If the Black Cats had sold Altidore or Fletcher and brought in a frontman from Europe, would they have been a better bet?

Now, by January, the respective goal fortunes of Poyet’s strikers – plus Wickham’s precarious contract situation – may force Sunderland into a re-think.

There may well be a one in, one out policy with the front trio.

Unless one of them can emerged as a regular scorer over the next three months, then Poyet will have no choice.

Sunderland may have to swallow a big financial loss on a striker if their Premier League status is in serious jeopardy.

But not every deficiency in the squad could be addressed in one window.

Patience will be needed over the baby-step progress which Sunderland are implementing.