Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: The transfer latest explained and the big selection debates from a fine Oxford United win

Sunderland’s League One campaign is off and running after a superb 2-0 win against Oxford United.

Monday, 21st September 2020, 12:30 pm

Phil Smith has been answering your questions as he picks through all the big talking points from the game, and also takes a look at where things stand on the transfer front.

You can read all of his responses below….

Has Lynden Gooch been unfortunate to miss out on a place in the starting XI and what’s the reason been?

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Parkinson put it down to the ‘balance of the side’.

We’ve seen this season that he wants to play essentially a second striker, and push one of the central midfielders (Max Power so far) a little further forward.

He’s spoken a lot about more bodies in the box and more runs beyond the opposition defence, which explains that tactical shift.

It’s left Gooch in a pretty unfortunate position as the player who has to make way.

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Parkinson said it had been ‘very, very difficult’ not to pick him after a string of good showings in training.

Gooch was absolutely central to the turnaround in form at the start of 2020 and Parkinson could not have been more effusive in his praise for him after the game at Oxford.

He’s going to be in the starting line-up very, very soon.

Where is Lynden Gooch going to fit into the new system when he does start?

That’s the more difficult question.

Bring Gooch in, and who drops out? You’re going to have a slightly different profile of front three if he replaces Aiden O’Brien, with Gooch preferring to operate a little deeper and get his shots away from the edge of the box.

O’Brien’s Sunderland career so far has been interesting in that he keeps picking up really good positions in the box, but just hasn’t been able to find the finish.

Finding the right spot for Gooch in the slightly-changed system is a bit of a conundrum.

I think finding the answer will be one of Parkinson’s top priorities this week.

Where are we at with transfers? Anything in the pipeline?

There will be one or two more before the window shuts.

Parkinson is relatively happy with his squad on the whole, but he’s still keen for some more depth in key areas.

One of the main positions still to be filled is at left wing-back.

Denver Hume has started the season well, has a big future in that position and is going to play a huge amount (probably the vast majority) of football over the course of the campaign.

There’s a recognition, though, that cover and competition is both sensible and a necessity.

There are targets under consideration, but the sense I have is that there’s a desire not to commit immediately, given that there isn’t a huge amount of room to manoeuvre in terms of the salary cap rules.

I think Sunderland want a strong idea of what is available in other positions, before deciding exactly what deal they do in terms of that cover for Hume.

Clearly, a decision will have to be made at some stage.

Don’t be surprised if there’s one or two U21 players arriving from left-field either. The attitude very much seems to be that they can be bonus additions and if the deal is right, it makes sense to have a bit of a gamble in the current climate.

Mateo Bajamich is an example of that.

Parkinson has a good number of attacking options but the Argentinian was someone who just caught the eye as a player with a bit of an x-factor in the final third, with a bit of pace and dynamism.

It doesn’t mean that there’s a budget to spend on players. It just means one or two may arrive as we go along, if there’s a feeling across the board at the club that it’s a gamble worth taking.

It was interesting to see reports from Argentina over the weekend that Sunderland are still in the race.

Speaking to Parkinson last Thursday, the inference was very clear that the Black Cats, at that stage, had been priced out of the market due to the interest from other clubs.

So we’ll wait and see on that one.

Right from the moment the news of that interest broke, Parkinson has given the impression that he doesn’t expect Sunderland to win the race.

Why haven’t Jack Diamond & Dan Neil been in the squads, and when we can expect to see that change?

Parkinson spoke about Neil & Diamond’s exclusion from the squad last week on Thursday and in his comments, it was clear that we shouldn’t expect to see them at Oxford on Saturday.

It has been a shame not to see them on the bench, particularly at the Kassam Stadium with George Dobson being suspended.

In Neil’s case, he has a really bright future but when Lynden Gooch isn’t getting in the starting XI, you can see why it’s going to be tough.

Diamond is a little different in that you think there probably could be a spot on the bench for someone who can play at wing-back as well as further forward.

Generally, though, Parkinson laid down a pretty clear gauntlet to both on Thursday.

He emphatically ruled out any loan move before January and said that gave them time to break through.

He also said there would be chances in October when the fixtures start to pile up.

They’ll both play U23 and EFL Trophy games, so the key is for them to really impress in those games.

If they do, then there will rightly be an expectation for league opportunities given what has been said about Aiden McGeady and the academy more generally this summer.

Has Grant Leadbitter done enough to keep his place in the side?

As long as he maintains that level of performance, he will stay in the team.

Most of the side struggled in the first half and while Leadbitter was far from dominant, he still played one or two excellent passes to open the game up.

In his two appearances so far we’ve seen some good signs in terms of his understanding with Aiden O’Brien, springing him clear with good balls over the top.

In the second half he was excellent, on top of second balls, positionally aware and making key interceptions.

We know that Parkinson wants to play with a holding midfielder, as he feels it gives the full/wing-backs the cover they need to get forward.

Leadbitter will keep the role for the weekend, you feel, and has a chance to really stake a claim.

Of course, we know that in this congested fixture schedule, he isn’t going to play every single game.

Like many, I’ve said it would be good to see what Josh Scowen can do from the start.

It may well be that this Saturday is the day.

Parkinson said post-match that he doesn’t think Max Power’s injury is too serious, but he’s certainly a doubt at this stage.

Is Will Grigg’s confidence going to be affected after dropping back to the bench?

The centre-forward position remains, I think, the biggest area of uncertainty as we move into the rest of the season.

At the beginning of pre-season, it had seemed difficult to see a way back into the side, at least in terms of having a prominent, regular role, for Grigg.

One of the most encouraging aspects of those games, then, was to see the striker looking sharp, pressing aggressively and seemingly enjoying the service from his team-mates.

For him to end up on the bench within a game has definitely been a disappointment.

Grigg didn’t have a particularly good game against Bristol Rovers last Saturday but you couldn’t say the service was excellent either.

Parkinson is clearly very keen on getting Graham into the side and while he still isn’t match fit, he was an outlet on Saturday.

From what we’ve heard from Parkinson so far, I expect to see Graham get more and more minutes.

It is definitely a shame as far as Grigg has concerned.

Does the current system get the best out of the striking options?

It’s definitely a tricky one to judge.

In the two games so far, Sunderland have created a lot of chances (aside from that first half against Oxford but in fairness, the home side created even less).

It’s just that over Parkinson’s tenure, the goals are predominantly scored by the attacking midfielders.

Both Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch’s record in that time in terms of their attacking output is very good.

I think everyone knows, though, that a greater output from the centre-forward could be the key over the course of the campaign.

For all Sunderland are creating chances, their centre-forward does not receive the bulk of them.

That’s been the case whoever is playing up front.

Danny Graham and Charlie Wyke suit Parkinson’s style, in terms of holding the ball up and bringing those dangerous attacking midfielders into play.

Grigg has struggled to really have an influence because he doesn’t seem to get many of those passes off the shoulder that he’s looking for.

Generally speaking, Sunderland’s attacking numbers so far this season are encouraging, but I do think the lack of chances for centre-forwards is something that the manager will be looking at.

In fairness, though, you’d have to say in that second half at the Kassam Stadium, Sunderland were a well-functioning team. Maintain that level and they’ll be a force this season.

Any significance in Stewart Donald’s appearance at the game?

I don’t think there’s any real significance, to be honest.

Donald obviously lives in the area and so I wouldn’t read anything into it in terms of the takeover or otherwise.

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