Luke Garbutt, Denver Hume and the transfer conundrum Sunderland are still trying to solve

Two league goals, two big contributions from Denver Hume.
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Both of them low crosses, benefiting from a favourable bounce or two before landing at the feet of the Sunderland goalscorer.

Luck only told part of the story, though.

Both were fired into the area that the Black Cats work on relentlessly in training, the 'second six-yard box' where Phil Parkinson believes goals come from.

Luke Garbutt during his days as an England youth internationalLuke Garbutt during his days as an England youth international
Luke Garbutt during his days as an England youth international
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It has not all all been plain sailing, with Parkinson frustrated that a remarkable tally of 40 crosses on the opening day of the season (more than they have ever produced in a single game under his management) didn't yield more chances.

Hume remains an improving player, a 22-year-old with room for greater consistency in both sides of his game.

Yet his role in Parkinson's side is critical, with few players in the league as consistent at carrying the ball into dangerous areas from deep.

In what has been a challenging 18 months, Hume's rise has been one of the few plus points.

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One of the key discussions at the club this summer has been 'creating value' in the team, prioritising players with room to grow both in ability and value.

Hume embodies that, all of which makes you wonder whether a sliding-doors moment earlier this summer may work out best for all parties after all.

The key summer target and why it didn’t happen

Carlo Ancelotti may not have known much about Luke Garbutt, but any regular observer of League One certainly would.

Garbutt enjoyed a hugely successful loan at Ipswich Town last season, even if the side he thrived in fell away badly at the turn of the year.

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It put him high on transfer shortlists across the division as his Everton contract wound down, and Sunderland's interest made even more sense.

Garbutt is a natural left-back but like Hume, there is no doubt that it is in the final third where he is strongest.

The Black Cats saw this for themselves on the second day of the 2018/19 campaign, when Garbutt burst into the box from the left, taking two smart touches before firing in an excellent right-footed finish.

Strong set pieces are another string to his bow, all of which made him tailor-made for Parkinson's 3-4-3 system.

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Sunderland pushed hard and felt they were close to getting a deal done before the salary cap vote, which in an instant took Garbutt well out the club's wage range.

They had tried to close the deal in the build up to the vote, with the final result become increasingly likely to be a negative one as far as they were concern.

The argument put to Garbutt's camp was that after the vote, the offers he'd receive were going to come down drastically.

Garbutt opted to wait, and Blackpool sprung a surprise on Tuesday in announcing his signature.

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Their spending this summer has raised eyebrows (Garbutt is now the third senior left-back on their books), but it is hard to begrudge a club that endured so much looking forward with ambition.

Besides, they have by and large invested in youth and in fairness to them, boosted their flexibility by getting a lot of business done before the cap came in.

Sunderland, though, were sent back to the drawing board to try and solve a familiar dilemma.

The two failed attempts to solve this problem

Reece James was the first player to leave the club in the summer of 2019 and it proved to be troublesome.

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James had a solid if unspectacular first season at the Stadium of Light but in many ways was the perfect foil for the delevoping Hume.

More than dependable as injury cover, and consistent enough to provide genuine competition.

James, understandably, was tempted by the guarantee of being first choice at a Doncaster Rovers side that themselves had made the play-off the season previous.

His replacement, Laurens De Bock, was Sunderland's final addition of the window.

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That was a fairly damning reflection of the club's transfer battle and De Bock, miles off match fitness, was fighting a losing battle from day one.

Parkinson, it must be said, spoke positively about the Belgian but it was clear that he preferred a move closer to home and when he did feature, it tended to be on the left of a back three.

Declan John arrived in January but he, remarkably, left without playing a single minute.

Parkinson gave little away when regularly asked post-match why the Welshman had not made it into the squad.

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The word from the training ground was that there wasn't a huge amount too it. Hume was playing well and making a bigger impact day in, day out.

So what next?

John's place in the squad remains unfilled and the salary cap has made filling it that little bit harder.

Hume's growth left Parkinson comfortable prioritising other areas of the pitch when it came to using the wages and senior player slots he still had at his disposal.

Committing that to a player who may not feature regularly made little sense, and explained why 23-year-old Demetri Mitchell was not signed despite impressing on trial.

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The loan market is an option and has not been entirely ruled out, but the Premier League's best youngsters want guarantees on minutes and Sunderland can't offer them.

The likely solution will be a senior player who Parkinson feels can get the balance between offering genuine competition in what is a punishing schedule, but who will also allow Hume's pathway to be protected.

Garbutt's proven quality would unquestionably have been welcomed, but at a club where the short-term has too often dominated the thinking, and where there is now a welcome desire to promote the likes of Dan Neil and Jack Diamond, Hume should be the priority.

We will leave, for another week at least, the fact that Hume is one of a few talented players whose contract is winding down to one side.

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