Chris Young: Sunderland’s defensive frailties must be addressed quickly or it will be another bleak winter

Jason Denayer
Jason Denayer
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Sunderland were beginning to prepare the paperwork on the signing of Jason Denayer 12 months ago, before Galatasary stepped in to snare the Manchester City centre-half on loan.

It was that close.

Dick Advocaat was rightfully sceptical of John O’Shea and Younes Kaboul’s ability to last a full campaign and still held reservations over Sebastian Coates’ credentials, despite his contribution to the previous season’s salvage job.

Denayer fit the perfect profile for a loan capture - young, hungry, unlikely to get a chance at one of the Premier League’s big boys - and he was a realistic target for the Black Cats, until, as ironically with fellow target Adnan Januzaj, he slipped from Advocaat’s grasp and headed to the Continent.

When Sunderland’s interest was revived last month, it again made common sense, albeit the 21-year-old endured a mare against Wales at Euro 2016. As good a servant as O’Shea has been for this club, it would have been a huge risk to put total faith in a 35-year-old being one of just three centre-halves.

But by necessity, Sunderland’s 12-month pursuit of Denayer might have to bear fruit now. In fact, it might have to blossom into a bumper crop.

After Monday night’s familiarly sour capitulation, can David Moyes really grant Papy Djilobodji the lengthy induction period he clearly requires to succeed in the Premier League?

Djilobodji has the raw tools, as witnessed during the first half against Everton when he was responsible for a number of timely blocks and interceptions. He’s powerful, physically-imposing and quick.

He earned plenty of attention for a reason at French club Nantes, prior to being hawked around English football (including Sunderland) and ultimately joining Chelsea.

However, those precious assets of experience, communication and crucially concentration, just aren’t developed sufficiently yet, whether that stems from a language or footballing barrier.

The 27-year-old enjoyed several narrow escapes at Southampton, but on Monday he was brutally punished for his shortcomings in all three goals.

Djilobodji wasn’t alone. As Moyes himself rued, far too many crosses were allowed into the area, with Patrick van Aanholt seemingly intent on beginning this season in a familiar fashion to the way he started the last.

But one of the prime reasons why van Aanholt was an altered beast in the second half of last year was the presence of Kaboul alongside him, rollicking and cajoling him to remain attentive and in position.

Although personal reasons forced Moyes’ hand, losing Kaboul during the summer - particularly as it involved shelling out an extra £4.5million to questionably replace him - was as big an impact on Sunderland’s survival chances as missing out on Yann M’Vila or another proven goalscorer.

Can Denayer do any better than Djilobodji in instantly filling that chasmic void? Possibly, possibly not.

The Belgian international certainly gained plenty of plaudits during his loan spells at Celtic and Galatasary, and there were no shortage of suitors prior to his deadline day move to the Stadium of Light.

But surely the inclusion of Denayer – or even O’Shea – is worthy of deep consideration for an ominous-looking trip to in-form Spurs, even if Moyes could even spring a surprise by opting for the back five, who participated in the damage-limitation exercise for the final 15 minutes against Everton.

If Sunderland are to stand any chance of recovering from YET AGAIN being stuck in the blocks, then they must have a solid base. Eight goals conceded in four games is almost a miserable a statistic as one point on the board.

It’s clearly on David Moyes’ mind too, hence the preference for Duracell bunnies Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch in the wide midfield roles.

Both lack finesse – Watmore in particular still prompting frustration over too many loose touches – yet they give their all in tracking back and throwing themselves whole-heartedly into challenges.

Surely Gooch wouldn’t have lost the 50-50 which Wahbi Khazri surrendered to the lightweight Gerard Deulofeu in the build-up to Everton’s first goal. That’s why the young guns are being included ahead of the £9million January signing.

The return of Jan Kirchhoff will help Sunderland’s solidity, as will Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong, when he eventually comes to terms with his arrival in English football.

But if centre-halves switch off and allow frontmen of Romelu Lukaku’s calibre the windfall of a free header, then Sunderland might as well raise the white flag now.

Denayer is not without risk himself, yet when the double, double, toil and trouble accompanies the start of Autumn, Moyes has to find immediate solutions to avoid another winter of discontent.