Our Sunderland AFC writers offer their take on the club's transfer plans, goalkeeping dilemma and Will Grigg
With Sunderland’s return for pre-season training rapidly approaching, there remain a host of debates to be had over the first-team squad.
From incomings to outgoings, youngsters to fringe players, the club’s backroom staff will be weighing-up a number of dilemmas ahead of the new campaign.
But what would our writers do? Here, we ask Phil Smith and Mark Donnelly some key questions as the build-up to the 2021/22 season continues...
With Aiden McGeady understood to be nearing a new deal, how big of a role do you expect him to have next season?
PS: I expect him to play a lot, if the deal progresses as hoped and expected. Lee Johnson has put McGeady right at the heart of his plans from his first game in charge and has already said he still thinks he can perform at a top level next season. For sure, Sunderland need to bring some more pace and variety in the team elsewhere. They need more goals, and more assists, from midfield but McGeady will still be a crucial player should he extend.
MD: A player of McGeady's quality will undoubtedly play a key role in the 2021/22 campaign. While some may point to his age, he remains one of the most talented players in League One and would arguably force his way into any side in the division. He can deliver those moments of magic that Sunderland will require at key moments in the season if they are to mount a promotion push and he will likely be a regular under Lee Johnson. However, it’s clear more creative players need to be brought into the squad to take the weight off McGeady’s shoulders. A balance needs to be found to ensure that while Sunderland continue exploiting McGeady’s class, they don’t over-rely on him.
Will Sunderland look for another goalkeeper or will Anthony Patterson be handed a chance?
PS: Patterson will certainly get a chance in pre-season, and I'd expect him to begin the campaign as number two to Lee Burge. I don't think it's necessarily a settled debate, though. Sunderland have backed Patterson for the long term but they may well decide in the short term that a loan might eventually be the best option. Patterson has a big opportunity, though, in the short and medium term.
MD: It was pretty clear from Kristjaan Speakman’s comments following the agreement of Patterson’s new deal that the young stopper will be given every chance to impress in pre-season. There is a real opportunity for the academy graduate - and a clutch of other under-23 players – to stake a claim in the early weeks of pre-season. Patterson needs games to develop, but for now there is every belief that he could receive the necessary playing time on Wearside. If the picture changes, then a loan move may be the best option.
If Charlie Wyke departs, should Sunderland seek a like-for-like replacement or a different option up top?
PS: Sunderland have big plans for Ross Stewart and his performances towards the end of the campaign suggested that faith could be well placed. So if Wyke, as expected, departs, my priority would be on recruiting a slightly different type of forward. We've seen Stewart has that athleticism, can press, and can hold the ball up even if that's not the strongest part of his game. So I think the next step would be to get some real, genuine pace in the final third to stretch teams in a way we've not seen enough of over the last three seasons.
MD: The club’s recruitment team spent the early part of this year building their player profiles, ensuring the players they recruit can fit the needs and demands of Sunderland’s desired style of play. They will therefore already have a fairly clear idea of what is required should Wyke leave, and the attributes that are lacking in the squad. In Ross Stewart, the Black Cats already have something of a like-for-like replacement for Wyke and his performances towards the end of the season were certainly encouraging. It would be little surprise, therefore, to see recruitment focus on bringing in players with slightly different attributes to Wyke. Pace is something that it is abundantly clear Sunderland lack, and will likely be targeted this summer.
Do you think Will Grigg will start the season at Sunderland?
PS: I don't expect so. While it might not be straightforward to find a financial solution that suits all parties involved, I think generally there's an acceptance that it is time to move on. Wigan and MK Dons both have an interest, and the former are certainly showing this summer that they have a willingness to invest quite heavily in their playing squad. I suspect it will be a saga that runs on for a little while yet, but I expect the end game will be that Grigg plays his football elsewhere next season.
MD: It would be a big surprise. An exit at this stage seems to suit both parties – for Grigg, it enables him to build upon an encouraging loan spell at MK Dons last season and for Sunderland, it could enable them to recoup at least some of the fee they splashed out on the striker. Grigg is entering the final year of his deal and could leave the club for nothing next summer, so securing a fee of some description this summer could be a good move.