SAFC Analysis: Defensive concerns add to striker search going into Sunderland’s crucial final days of transfer window

Lee Cattermole climbs all over Scott Sinclair to concede the penalty which allowed Villa to level at 1-1. Picture by Frank Reid
Lee Cattermole climbs all over Scott Sinclair to concede the penalty which allowed Villa to level at 1-1. Picture by Frank Reid
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Lee Congerton faces 72 hours of purgatory in his attempts to add those final pieces of the jigsaw to this Sunderland squad before the transfer deadline.

While Dick Advocaat has been boosted by the capture of Ola Toivonen – who immediately made his presence felt with an assist at Villa Park yesterday – Sunderland evidently need a couple more if they are not to be left short.

A striker is a must, with neither Danny Graham nor Steven Fletcher looking genuine goal threats, while those full-back positions have been exposed in every single one of Sunderland’s opening five games, albeit they are being offered little protection.

But regardless of who comes in or out during the final throws of the transfer window, Dick Advocaat has a hefty list of positives and an equally hefty list of negatives to ponder during this first pause in the Premier League’s schedule.

On the plus side, those who already have arrived at the Stadium of Light this summer are making an impact.

Yann M’Vila was again excellent, and not just his pinpoint free-kick, with the French international becoming increasingly influential in dictating Sunderland’s play.

Younes Kaboul was not far behind him in Sunderland’s top performers at Villa Park, with the ex-Spurs man proving a much more competent and sharper figure than he had displayed in the opening two games.

Maybe it was the presence of John O’Shea alongside him, than Sebastian Coates, but Kaboul was virtually holding the Sunderland defence together at stages of both the first and second halves, when a Villa side that lacked a cutting edge was piling on the pressure.

While Toivonen’s impact was limited to the opening 15 minutes of the second half, he made Jeremain Lens’ equaliser and showed enough in those pockets behind the striker to suggest that he can thrive in the Premier League.

But frustratingly for Advocaat, there were just as many entries in the ‘negative’ column.

Lee Cattermole looks nothing like the player who was so influential for Sunderland last season. He hasn’t done in any of the first five games.

The climbing on Scott Sinclair for the penalty was utterly daft, while he was turned far too easily by Idrissa Gana for Villa’s second.

Cattermole needed to be taken off for his own good at half-time, as did Graham, who offered absolutely nothing in leading the line.

Sunderland were again oh-so-vulnerable at the back too – 13 goals in five games, is a damning statistic.

Even if they are scoring goals and even if new arrivals are on their way, Advocaat needs to spend a lot longer on his side’s defensive work to give Sunderland a sniff of moving up the table in the next chapter of the season.