Chris Young’s verdict - Absentees beginning to leave Sunderland short

Billy Jones
Billy Jones
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THERE were no cartwheels from Gus Poyet when asked about Sunderland’s business at the end of the transfer window.

Poyet was content, rather than cock-a-hoop, over the nine players brought to the Stadium of Light during the summer. Like any other manager, he wanted more.

But, privately, Poyet didn’t expect more than nine or 10 fresh faces when he set out the club’s transfer strategy at the end of May.

He was relatively happy with his lot by September 2.

However, there was a caveat.

With Sunderland’s squad still a couple short numerically, Poyet realised the Black Cats would require a splash of fortune in their relationship with the treatment table.

Sunderland had a relatively easy ride with injuries last season.

Other than Steven Fletcher and Keiren Westwood, there were no long-term patients in the infirmary.

But now the casualties are beginning to bite, particularly at the back.

The loss of Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez for around a month can be overcome.

Those wide areas are one of the few positions where Sunderland have some cover, particularly if Connor Wickham continues to be used as a makeshift inside forward.

But losing Sebastian Coates for a similar timescale leaves Poyet with just five first-team defenders to pick from.

With full-back Billy Jones a doubt to face Southampton tomorrow after limping off in a practice match last week and Santiago Vergini jet-lagged after a 5,000-mile return journey from Hong Kong, it’s easy to see why Poyet opted to bring in out-of-contract ex-France international Anthony Reveillere on trial this week.

Sunderland are only one defensive injury away from a precarious tightrope walk to January.

It would be no surprise if Wes Brown was recalled tomorrow – either at the expense of Jones or Vergini – in the only change Poyet is likely to make from the win over Stoke a fortnight ago.

The inclusion of Brown won’t weaken Sunderland defensively at St Mary’s, yet the Black Cats desperately need to maintain their resilience at the back this weekend.

This game will be a chess match. It’s unlikely to be an end-to-end humdinger.

Southampton will pass. pass and pass again until a gap appears.

Sunderland will look to keep the dam sealed shut before attempting to prise open the similarly water-tight Southampton defence on the counter-attack.

But Poyet’s side cannot afford any daft blunders to hand the initiative to a Saints side bursting with confidence, as Newcastle did in their 4-0 drubbing at St Mary’s a month ago.

Southampton’s recovery from a summer of sales has been well-documented and has to be applauded.

In the likes of Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and Sunderland transfer target Toby Alderweireld, the initial indications are that Southampton’s recruitment team will be receiving a well-earned Christmas bonus.

Perhaps Southampton’s best piece of summer business though was rejecting Tottenham’s advances for Morgan Schneiderlin, despite the French international midfielder clearly lusting over a reunion with Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane.

While Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw stole the limelight last season, Schneiderlin was the heartbeat of the side.

He showed that in January’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland on Wearside, when he utterly ran the show for the one-sided opening half-hour.

Whether to stick with Jordi Gomez or recall Jack Rodwell to combat the power, pace and movement of Schneiderlin is perhaps a selection dilemma for Poyet to consider.

Schneiderlin is just one of the multi-pronged threats in Southampton’s ranks though.

Sunderland are facing an in-form, well-drilled and dangerous side.

If they come away with anything from the south coast, it will be a welcome building block from that maiden victory against Stoke.

Verdict: Home win