After two months of reshaping a squad that beat the drop by a precarious three points last season, Sunderland’s summer business now faces the acid test.
The captures of Fabio Borini, Ola Toivonen and DeAndre Yedlin in the last week of the transfer window have given Dick Advocaat’s ranks a much stronger complexion.
But here are five unanswered questions heading into the next four months, prior to the January sales opening.
• WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THOSE OUT-OF-CONTRACT NEXT SUMMER?
Sunderland splashed out more than £25million to land Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson and Danny Graham during Martin O’Neill’s tenure, yet the trio could all potentially leave for nothing at the end of the season.
Johnson’s situation will obviously depend on the outcome of his Crown Court trial in February.
But Fletcher and Graham are far more unknown quantities after Sunderland were willing to listen to offers for the pair during the summer.
Neither will be frozen out by Advocaat, even if the capture of Borini will push both down the pecking order of the Sunderland head coach’s strikers.
Yet Sunderland will now have to weigh up whether to hand either of the duo a new contract, let them leave for a pittance in January or for absolutely zilch at the end of the season.
• DO SUNDERLAND STILL NEED A TARGETMAN?
Despite the trials and tribulations in the 13-month pursuit of Borini, his return to the Stadium of Light has met with a predominantly positive reaction from Sunderland supporters.
Yet Borini is not the physical centre-forward Advocaat had been searching for to lead the line in his favoured 4-3-3 formation.
Borini, Jermain Defoe and Jeremain Lens look – on paper at least – to be Sunderland’s strongest front three, but Advocaat has remarked on several occasions since the opening day rout at Leicester that he can’t use Defoe as a lone striker.
With Borini playing in last week’s practice game against Hartlepool as a central striker, it looks like the Italian will occupy that role, as he did in the Capital One Cup final.
However, when Borini was used out wide under Gus Poyet, he was ever-willing to track back and support his full-back. Is Defoe quite so keen to do that?
• CAN SUNDERLAND EVER SHIFT THE DEAD-WOOD?
There was no lack of effort from Lee Congerton to move on Will Buckley, Liam Bridcutt, Valentin Roberge and Charis Mavrias this summer.
Dick Advocaat has made it clear to the quartet that they are not part of his plans and will be confined to the Under-21 squad, yet they remain at the club.
Perhaps the emergency loan window will see Championship suitors offer an exit route.
Perhaps Sunderland will have to reach agreements over mutually terminating some contracts.
But while none of the four unwanted players are anywhere near Sunderland’s top earners, collectively their wages do add up.
• IS SUNDERLAND’S DEFENCE STRONG ENOUGH?
Four of Sunderland’s eight summer signings were defenders, yet the Black Cats still look distinctly vulnerable at the back.
While there were plenty of encouraging signs from Younes Kaboul at Aston Villa in Sunderland’s last outing, Advocaat appears to have reservations over both Sebastian Coates and John O’Shea.
At full-back, meanwhile, all four options seem to be far more comfortable going forwards than they are defensively.
Sunderland’s tally of 11 Premier League goals conceded in four games, plus three against League Two Exeter, is an emphatic statistic of where the problems have been for Advocaat in the season’s opening exchanges.
• WILL THE KIDS STILL GET A CHANCE?
Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch were granted their first-team opportunities prior to the signings of Ola Toivonen and Fabio Borini, when Advocaat had few other options.
But while circumstances may have prompted Advocaat to turn to the Under-21 pair almost as a last resort, they grasped their opportunities with both hands, to indicate that they can indeed make the grade at Sunderland.
Toivonen and Borini have obviously strengthened Advocaat’s hand, but can Watmore and Gooch remain in first-team contention?
Certainly, in the case of England Under-21 international Watmore, his fearlessness, work-rate and energy surely has to keep him in Advocaat’s thinking as an impact substitute.