Could encouraging performances alter Sunderland’s January transfer plans?

Sunderland host Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light
Sunderland host Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light
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Though the assumption had been that he would move abroad, ideally to a club in the Champions League, it had always seemed likely that one day Chris Coleman’s Wales journey would end and he would return to the grind of club football.

The speed with which events unfolded and the eventual destination may have caught the football world by surprise but the opportunity to get back on the training pitch day in, day out was always going to appeal to a manager who had missed that regular connection with players for almost six years.

David Preece in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

David Preece in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors

The Black Cats boss will be relishing the prospect of improving the club’s younger talents and reviving the older ones.

One element of club management he will not have missed, however, is the chaos of the transfer market.

Particularly the winter window, which for teams at the bottom of the table it often feels, as Coleman himself described it recently, like you’re ‘running against a brick wall’, or ‘running up a hill with the wind and rain in your face’.

He is facing a difficult balancing act next month, with finances severely limited and four loanees already on the book.

There is uncertainty over a raft of senior players. It may be that their futures are not settled until the closing stages of the window, leaving Coleman will little time to act.

It will be a fraught month, and Sunderland will be hoping that they can navigate through with some strengthening done ahead of a bigger rebuild in the summer.

Five encouraging performances under the new manager so far, however, may just give him a touch more breathing space.

While Coleman will be desperate to keep their feet on the ground and manage their progression, the rise of Joel Asoro and Josh Maja offers some desperately needed depth to the attacking options and crucially, the pace that was lost when Duncan Watmore suffered another serious injury.

James Vaughan has been a nuisance in every appearance under the new boss so far, desperately unlucky not to score against Fulham and making a much bigger impact in the target man role.

It bodes well that Aiden McGeady, who not so long ago looked like the Black Cats’ only creative threat, has not featured in the impressive recent results.

Clearly, losing Lewis Grabban would be a significant blow and he simply must be replaced. Indeed, Coleman is of the opinion that another striker is needed even if the Bournemouth man stays.

A centre-forward will be top of his wishlist and he will be desperate to make that the fifth loan signing of the season.

All over the pitch, an injection of pace and quality would be welcome but a number of fringe players, such as Adam Matthews and Marc Wilson, are starting to benefit from increased game time and looking more at ease in the XI.

Nowhere is that summed up more than between the goalposts, a position that weeks ago looked critical but now less so.

Coleman kept his faith in Robbin Ruiter and he now has three clean sheets in the last four games. There have been uncomfortable moments but his distribution is improving and confidence growing.

Coleman would no doubt want to make a long-term change in this department and secure his own No 1 but he will find it easier to do so in the summer when Mika, an expensive third choice at this level, presumably departs at the end of his contract.

Make no mistake, Coleman needs additions this January and after securing a manager of his calibre, it is now down to Ellis Short and Martin Bain to get him the players he needs.

A short upturn in results can easily, as we saw last season, give way if the fundamental shortcomings of the squad are not addressed.

If Sunderland are serious about challenging for promotion by the end of Coleman’s contract in 2020, serious investment will be needed over a number of windows.

There are no guarantees in January, however, and Coleman will at least feel the players he could be left with are responsive to his ideas and can tide him through until the end of the season.

If he does not get the additions he needs it will very much be a relegation battle and a long, long season as he has so often said.

For the first time in a few months, however, there is some hope that this squad can beat it.