Were Sunderland tempted to delay James Vaughan’s move to Wigan Athletic until a suitable replacement had been signed?
The question was put to Chris Coleman after Josh Maja had, understandably, struggled against an imposing back three of Sol Bamba, Bruno Manga and Sean Morrison. His answer, short and to the point, was revealing. “James wanted to be away, that’s OK,” he said. “It didn’t work out for James with us, I think he scored twice in 23 games, so it never really worked out. We were bottom of the league before, some things need to change. We’re waiting [for a replacement] but the sooner the better.” Coleman admitted that it is unfair to put too much pressure on Josh Maja, that a replacement is crucial, but the inference was clear. Wigan’s interest had turned Vaughan’s head and even if he had the experience, Coleman and Sunderland decided he was not in a position to make an impact against Cardiff City or any other team.
The striker was struggling for goals but had also proved largely ineffective as a target man. Coleman had made reference to that earlier in his tenure, urging his side not to go long as he didn’t have a player who could compete with Championship defences and make it stick. It increasingly became hard to see where he fit into the system Coleman has been playing.
Maja, it is worth noting, had pushed his way ahead of Vaughan in the pecking order for the trip to Middlesbrough the week before after an ineffective performance against Barnsley.
Coleman had sprung a surprise by removing Vaughan and Grabban for Maja and Asoro in that win over Fulham but in retrospect, it is clear that the Sunderland boss was preparing for change. Grabban certainly was on his way out at that point but Vaughan was also failing to win him over.
Wigan were keen to put money on the table and do a deal. Vaughan wanted out. Would he have performed if forced to stay and would there have been a taker in the months to follow if his poor form continued?
Sunderland were keen to cash in and be in a stronger financial position, albeit only slightly, when going into the market for the new strikers that they so clearly need.
It is a big gamble ahead of a crucial game against Hull City this weekend, one in which it seems increasingly likely that Maja will be asked to lead the line again. If it fails, beating the drop will become a much bigger task.
Dependent on loans, Sunderland are largely at the mercy of other clubs and there is every chance that they will have to wait until the end of the window to find
It is lost on no one that before then they will have played two of their closest relegation rivals and if their goalscoring woes continue, they could be adrift before the cavalry arrives.
Would Vaughan have been an asset in the meantime?
At the moment it is impossible to know, but the signs were far from emphatic that he would have been.
Sunderland have rolled the dice, certainly, and their decision will be judged on the quality of whoever arrives in the weeks to follow.
That is rather the bigger question.
After all, when Vaughan arrived he was seen behind the scenes as the perfect example of the culture shift the club wanted to introduce.
A player who it was suggested would sign a blank piece of paper to come and play for a club of this size and to graft to put it back where it belonged.
That it could go so badly wrong in four months underlines how hard Sunderland have found it to recruit players who can thrive and turn things around. Last summer increasingly feels like another mis-step and that is real cause for concern.
Accepting it wasn’t a move that would work for anyone was the right decision, giving Coleman the chance to find someone who fits his plans for the next four months and beyond rather than just for two games.
But making another mistake now, as they did with Vaughan, will be fatal.