The key Sunderland deadline day questions and fan concerns explored and assessed
Sunderland’s deadline day saw Jack Ross land his key priority at the end of the window, while two players left on loan.
Reaction from supporters has been mixed, so Phil Smith runs through the main talking points…..
Will Laurens De Bock be up to it?
Sunderland had one deal that they absolutely had to do on deadline day and they managed to wrap it up with minimum fuss.
It was the one department where they had struggled to make a breakthrough all summer.
Reece James was sold to Doncaster Rovers in mid-June, with Jack Ross reasoning that he could not take the risk of being left with three left-backs for another season. He had expected Bryan Oviedo to leave last summer and been left with a management headache when he didn’t. Oviedo did leave this time, around six weeks later, an agreement reached to release him from his contract in order to join FC Copenhagen.
Sunderland suffered frustration in their pursuit for a replacement as Denver Hume struggled for form.
Four targets moved to Championship clubs on deadline day, while two potential acquisitions after that saw their circumstances change considerably.
Morgan Fox looked an obvious candidate as he struggled to win a place and the support of fans at Sheffield Wednesday, but an injury to Liam Palmer gave him a chance and Lee Bullen said he was ‘going nowhere.’ A significant bid from Celtic then put an end to any hope of signing Kilarmnock’s Greg Taylor, in a deal believed to be nearing £3 million.
So Ross moved for De Bock.
De Bock admits it was a ‘very difficult’ time at Leeds United, but there are a few reasons to think this is a savvy pick in the circumstances.
One, Ross landed a player with significant senior experience, something he had held out for all the way along.
He did want to bring in another player with limited exposure to senior football, given his determination to progress Hume. Hume, to his credit, showed in two excellent displays against AFC Wimbledon and Burnley that he has a lot to offer as the season develops.
A Champions League footballer used to challenging for titles in Belgium, the pressure of pushing for promotion will be nothing new to De Bock.
Having played on loan at KV Oostende last season, he also has a good recent history of playing despite his struggles at Leeds.
No one could argue this was an ideal scenario that played out throughout the summer and the start of the campaign, but reaching a resolution will be a relief for Ross.
Only time can tell whether De Bock can produce what’s required.
Should Sunderland have signed another forward and did they end the day stronger?
The best metric to measure any transfer window is whether a side came out of it stronger than they started it.
With Sunderland, it’s complicated.
They lost some players of significant stature and with proven quality. Lee Cattermole, Adam Matthews, George Honeyman and Bryan Oviedo the most notable.
Matthews and Oviedo produced moments of quality last season, but neither were consistent.
Cattermole was effective and scored goals, while alongside Honeyman he was also a massive presence behind the scenes.
Any side at this level would miss that quality, though on the whole the squad last season was lacking balance.
Ross spoke of this perception and debate last Tuesday at Burnley.
“People from a distance might not think so [squad is stronger] when you look at the changes we made, but I’ve spoken often enough about the equilibrium we’ve brought to the dressing room, contractually etc.
“We’ve got that better balance and in terms of the attributes, I think it’s better balanced. We had a young side tonight, five under 23 tonight, and there was a lot of athleticism which helps us.
“We learned from last season, we felt we had a good season but ultimately fell short. So we then had to identify what we maybe lacked in the squad and hopefully we’ve addressed that. It’s still very early for us but we think we have those attributes that give us a greater athleticism.”
Jordan Willis already looks an obvious upgrade in defence and brings real pace, and while Joel Lynch cannot be judged until he has played, he has more good pedigree at a higher level.
George Dobson has impressed in every outing so far, even if as a young player he will need to time to fully realise his potential. The way he coped with the physical challenge of tough games against Ipswich Town and Burnley bode very well.
Up front, Marc McNulty has made a good start and Ross feels his strikers are in a ‘totally different place’ this season.
There are some concerns about a lack of raw pace in the final third, and certainly one area for doubt is that Duncan Watmore has struggled for minutes this season.
When not fit, there is a significant burden on Lynden Gooch and not too many options to ‘stretch the game’, something Ross always likes to have in his locker.
Peterborough aside, however, Grigg and McNulty have both showed good intelligence and movement in the impressive five-game winning streak.
Only time will tell whether Sunderland are stronger.
They are certainly leaner, younger and have a squad with more room for growth.
Ross also has his ‘ideal’ squad size, with two players in every position.
Should Jack Baldwin have been let go?
Jack Ross had been clear that should Jack Baldwin have wanted to stay, he would have been more than happy.
Ross hailed Baldwin’s professionalism and work ethic even before his exemplary display at Burnley in the Carabao Cup last week. After, the Black Cats boss said that peformance was testament to the player and his standards.
Baldwin’s talent is beyond question. He started superbly last season, and even after a long spell out, his return in the 0-0 draw at Barnsley when conditions were awful showed what he was capable of. Last Tuesday simply underlined that.
Ross, though, had to change his defensive partnerships throughout the campaign. Consistency was an issue and Baldwin himself admitted as much.
Jordan Willis, Alim Ozturk and Joel Lynch look good bets for the campaign ahead and it’s hard to dispute that something had to change. Sunderland were simply not as ruthless or settled at the back as their promotion rivals.
Tom Flanagan is a player Ross will want part of his plans because of his versatility and ability fo fill in at full back, the position he had actually played for most of his career before joining last summer.
The Black Cats boss insisted that he would not stand in the way of any player leaving who was not part of his plans.
So the choice was with Baldwin and though the eventual destination was surprising, no one could criticise the 26-year-old for making gametime his top priority.
As polite, honest and grounded as any player you could wish to come across, Salford City have got themselves a gem.