Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: Dion Sanderson prospects, fan transfer concern and the youngsters set for a big chance

Sunderland’s pre-season campaign is nearing and a number of key issues remain at this stage unresolved

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 12:58 pm

Phil Smith has been answering questions from supporters on all the crucial topics in his weekly Q&A feature.

You can read all his responses below….

With all the new backroom hires and emphasis on player recruitment, why is it taking so long to get any business done?

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Dion Sanderson had a very successful loan at Sunderland last season
Dion Sanderson had a very successful loan at Sunderland last season

Six weeks to the start of the season and we have done nothing except get rid of players - how can we be considered as promotion candidates?

I think there’s a few elements to this.

The first thing to consider is that across the EFL divisions, business has been very limited so far this summer.

There has still been a lot of uncertainty around budgets as a consequence of the pandemic and generally there’s been a readjustment across the market.

Business in the Championship has also been very limited and that has an obvious impact on clubs in the third tier.

Sunderland have also been in the position whereby four potentially key players in their squad for next season have been weighing up contract offers, and their decisions are clearly going to have a significant impact on what happens next.

The new recruitment team, it should also be said, have picked up a threadbare operation and started out playing a position of catch up.

For sure, it’s not ideal to potentially be starting pre-season with a squad so threadbare in some key positions (full back and central midfield the two obvious ones at this stage), and new arrivals will have to get up to speed quickly through July.

The turnover at the club generally has been too ghih in recent summers, which is a direct consequence of the lack of long-term planning from previous regimes.

It leaves Kristjaan Speakman and his team with a lot of work to do this summer and at this stage, I think it’s still a little early to be overly concerned.

How do you rate our chances of signing Dion Sanderson?

Personally I think that while there is a chance, it will be a challenge.

There is a lot of competition for places at Wolves and with only one year left on his deal, there is clearly a scenario where Sanderson could leave in search of regular football.

The complication for Sunderland, I think, is that there are Championship clubs monitoring the situation and who I expect will make a move if Sanderson is cleared to leave Wolves.

That means it will not be as simple as just meeting an asking price and doing a deal.

That competition ultimately puts Wolves in a strong position.

Sheffield United, for example, are known to have tracked Sanderson for a considerable period and feel he could slot neatly into their 3-5-2 system.

Their appointment of Slavisa Jokanovic shows their ambition for the season ahead and you have to factor these things in when you consider Sunderland’s position.

Sanderson made a big impression on Wearside during his loan and would definitely fit the model for the kind of player the club are looking to invest in.

For Sanderson’s part, the fact that he is highly valued by club and fans here would, I’m sure, be a consideration.

So I think there is a chance, but right now my personal opinion is that a Championship switch later in the summer if probably most likely. We’ll see.

Which of the young players do you think can make a big impact in pre-season?

Well there are certainly going to be opportunities and to be fair, the club always expected that.

Kristjaan Speakman has spoken previously about the way that the extensive rebuild of the squad, which is going to be an ongoing process over the course of the summer, would mean chances for youngsters in the early part of pre-season.

Certainly, that game against Spennymoor Town on July 3rd is one in which I expect to see a strong cohort of U23 players from last season.

When Sunderland return for pre-season training Dan Neil, Ollie Younger, Anthony Patterson and Josh Hawkes are all expected to begin as part of Lee Johnson’s senior group.

After signing his first professional deal, there is also expected to be significant involvement for Ellis Taylor, though he is less experienced than that aforementioned quartet.

I’d expect all four to get decent opportunities to stake a claim, and it’s going to be a big period for Hawkes and Younger.

Both did superbly last season, and are at an age now where they need to be playing senior football on a regular basis.

Sunderland felt this summer period was going to be crucial for Hawkes in terms of his physical maturation and so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.

Dan Neil and Anthony Patterson also have a big opportunity to show in these early weeks that their promotion should be permanent, and that the club don’t need to recruit an additional player in their position.

Neil was superb in pre-season last time out, and to me his bravery in possession is exactly what the Black Cats are looking for.

Time remains very much on his side, but he definitely has the quality to make an impact.

Which League One clubs do you think have done the best business so far?

So far, I think it’s hard to look past Wigan Athletic.

They’ve added some real experience and genuine League One quality to their ranks and I think have shown that under new ownership their ambitions go well beyond simply replicating their late push for an impressive survival last season.

Shrewsbury Town have also done some decent early business, but generally speaking it has been very quiet across the division and as I mentioned earlier, that’s worth taking into consideration when assessing Sunderland’s summer so far.

Is the club confident players out of contract and who the club wants to keep will sign new contracts?

Across the four who are weighing up contract offers, it’s a mixed picture as things stand right now.

There has been considerable optimism that Aiden McGeady will extend his stay on Wearside.

All parties wanted to reach a resolution and the expectation is that will happen. McGeady’s quality on the pitch is obvious, and he’ll also bring experience when generally the move this summer will be to bring the average age of the squad down.

The expectation behind the scenes since the end of the campaign has been that Charlie Wyke would likely leave in search of a new opportunity and that remains the case at this stage.

Sunderland have tried to convince the striker that Wearside is the best place for him but given that an agreement has looked unlikely, there will no doubt have been contingency planning done behind the scenes.

Luke O’Nien has had interest from the Championship, and so while his affection for Sunderland is considerable, it’s clear that he has a big decision to make for his future.

The club have big plans for Denver Hume’s development and as such, hope they can reach an agreement with the 22-year-old.

All of these decisions are clearly going to have a big impact then on the transfer business that the club has to do.

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