Sunderland's transfer priorities as Cats target multiple deals following Alex Neil's sudden exit to Stoke

Sunderland are looking for a new head coach following Alex Neil’s sudden exit – while there is still work to be done in the transfer market.

Neil said four weeks ago he still wanted to add four or five players to the squad, yet only teenager Jewison Bennette has arrived since.

While the head coach had his say when it came to the club’s recruitment, the structure in place means any new signings are made on a collective decision.

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Neil’s voice has now been taken out of that equation as Sunderland look to appoint the Scot’s successor, while still looking to sign players who fit the desired criteria.

Sunderland defender Daniel Ballard has been sidelined with a foot injury. Picture by FRANK REID

Here are some the main priorities ahead of Thursday’s transfer deadline:

A replacement for Daniel Ballard

Sunderland’s thin squad has been reduced further by a couple of injury setbacks in recent weeks.

Daniel Ballard looks set to be sidelined for the next few months after suffering a fracture in his foot – a big blow after the 22-year-old’s arrival from Arsenal and impressive start to the campaign.

The Black Cats are therefore looking for a replacement who can play on the right side of defence.

Brighton defender Jan Paul van Hecke, 22, is a player Sunderland have expressed an interest in, yet the Seagulls want the Dutchman to sign a new deal before sanctioning a loan move.

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Cover at left-back

The side’s switch to a back three this season has allowed Jack Clarke to play as a wing-back, operating ahead of Dennis Cirkin on the left side of defence.

Still, it’s an area of the pitch where there is a clear lack of options, whichever formation the new head coach deploys.

Aji Alese can play as a left-back, yet it’s clear Sunderland need to sign another recognised full-back, ideally someone who has also played as a wing-back, with Niall Huggins still sidelined.

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Another option up front

As captain Corry Evans said after Sunderland’s defeat against Norwich, strikers Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms can cause problems for anyone at this level.

The pair have scored six goals between them following Simms’ loan arrival from Everton, and could have netted more after both hit the woodwork against the Canaries.

One of the advantages of playing with wing-backs means it’s easier to fit both forwards into the same team. That will be a big consideration for the new head coach when deciding on a system.

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Still, as we saw against Norwich, if the Black Cats continue to play with a front two, there is a lack of alternatives on the bench.

Sunderland missed out on a deal to re-sign Nathan Broadhead this summer and it’s clear at least one more forward addition is needed.

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Other deals that could happen

One player who appeared close to joining Sunderland was attacking midfielder Edouard Michut, yet reports from overseas have suggested there is an issue with the deal.

The PSG teenager was in the stands to watch the Norwich match following talks about an initial loan move, with an option to buy, yet he has since returned to France.

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While Sunderland appear well stocked in central midfield, they will continue to search for young talent who align with their recruitment model.

There is also an awareness the squad is short of options in the holding midfield role should Evans become unavailable, while they may look to sign another goalkeeper to compete with Anthony Patterson and Alex Bass.