CHRIS YOUNG: It’s Altidore vs Fletcher as Sunderland’s strike pair eye the lead role

RECALL ... Sunderland's Steven Fletcher.
RECALL ... Sunderland's Steven Fletcher.
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ADDING some flesh to Sunderland’s skeletal points tally is Gus Poyet’s only headache in these formative days of his stewardship.

But a suspension-creaking speed bump lies ahead in the weeks to come over which big-money buy will be the spearhead of Sunderland’s attack.

In the red corner, Steven Fletcher. In the blue corner, Jozy Altidore.

Doubtless, Poyet will issue the inevitable sound-bites about the pair being able to play together, as was Paolo Di Canio’s grand plan before the axe was wielded.

But if Poyet is to return to the 4-3-3 which proved so successful for him at Brighton, then it will be a straight fight between Altidore and Fletcher to lead Sunderland’s line.

The Uruguayan surely will stick to the system re-introduced by Kevin Ball, even if he insists he is open to Sunderland’s formation evolving.

For all Di Canio was uber-contemporary in his nutritional beliefs, his penchant for 4-4-2 looked out-dated.

A midfield already lacking the bite provided by Lee Cattermole was over-run. With one loose pass, opposition sides found themselves immediately delving deep into red and white territory.

Three men in the middle of the park is now the norm and that extra body proved fatal in sending Sunderland spiralling towards the basement.

Only the exceptional sides – with exceptional central midfielders – can get away with using two orthodox strikers.

Of the current top 10, only Manchester City and Manchester United use 4-4-2 on a regular basis, yet the latter’s struggles in the early part of the campaign are surely linked to David Moyes’s inability to settle upon a convincing pair in the middle.

Saturday’s opponents Swansea have probably suffered this season from boss Michael Laudrup’s determination to shoehorn both Michu and £12million record signing Wilfried Bony into the starting XI.

And Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has opted to sacrifice a defender and use three at the back, just so he can pair Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez together up front.

Clearly, the removal of Di Canio proved to be a motivational tool for Sunderland’s players during Ball’s three-game reign.

But the system also played to their strengths.

Sunderland looked far more solid and threatening – despite one less striker on the field – against Liverpool and Manchester United, than they managed against Arsenal, in Di Canio’s final home appearance.

There is a decent blend to the midfield three too, with the aggression of Cattermole, the composure of Ki Sung-Yeung and the eye for goal of Craig Gardner.

The latter has been shifted around the park with mixed success during his Sunderland career, yet his double-figure campaign at former club Birmingham City came when was used as the most attacking member of a midfield three.

When used in that role against the champions 12 days ago, Gardner looked a far more accomplished performer.

Poyet successfully stumbled upon 4-3-3 at Brighton and stuck to it doggedly.

Surely he will do the same here.

But while on-loan Fabio Borini or Ji Dong-won would be comfortable as strikers converted into a wide role, the same cannot be said of Altidore and Fletcher.

They are two orthodox frontmen, albeit with different attributes.

Fletcher is the archetypal poacher, who has proved adept as Sunderland’s premier goal threat either in a one or two-man strike force. In just 20 minutes at Selhurst Park in August, Fletcher reiterated what he does so well, even if he had spent the previous five months on the treatment table.

But Altidore offers more of a physical element to the attack.

The £6m summer capture has faced the thankless task of grappling with centre-halves so far during his Sunderland career and has shown no lack of willingness in being the focal point of the attack.

Strikers are judged on goals though.

Altidore may have netted 31 times for AZ Alkmaar last season and continues to prove his credentials for World Cup finals-bound America on the international stage, yet he badly needs the confidence boost of a Premier League goal in red and white.

Other than the “goal” which was ludicrously disallowed against Arsenal, Altidore has not really looked like scoring.

Until Fletcher sufficiently recovers from his shoulder injury, the decision is largely academic for Poyet.

But if Sunderland are to finally give up the ghost of 4-4-2, then Sunderland’s two principal frontmen are in for a battle.