The January transfer window is going to be pivotal towards Sunderland’s hopes of retaining their Premier League status.
Despite an improvement under Sam Allardyce, Sunderland’s squad clearly needs reinforcements in several key areas to maximise their hopes of beating the drop.
But Sunderland also need to move players on to balance the books, with several possible departures from the Stadium of Light next month.
Here’s four key January questions facing the club:
1. Can Sunderland land suitable additions without breaking the bank?
Allardyce has made it clear that he has been predominantly looking at loan deals, that have the potential to be converted into a permanent switch at the end of the season.
January transfer window pivotal towards Sunderland’s hopes of retaining Premier League statusChris Young
Understandably, supporters want to see big money fees splashed out to boost the survival mission, yet Allardyce’s search is a sensible one, particularly if Sunderland do fall into the Championship.
With Sunderland lying second bottom in the table, there is no lengthy queue of suitable players willing to move to the Stadium of Light.
It’s those chasing a shilling or two who will be pro-actively looking to join Sunderland, and they are rarely the right characters for a relegation battle.
Loan moves (and remember Sunderland still have one domestic loan available) or cut-price transfers hold less risk and might just land a player who can make the difference.
West Ham centre-half and Sunderland target James Collins would not be the most eye-catching of captures, yet he would be ready to scrap for points, wouldn’t cost the earth and would boost Allardyce’s scant central defensive options.
That ticks Sunderland’s boxes.
2. Will there be money available to land a centre-forward?
Dick Advocaat desperately wanted a physical targetman capable of leading the line, but after a deal for Borussia Dortmund’s Adrian Ramos fell through, he had to settle for Fabio Borini.
It’s still a problem with the squad.
Steven Fletcher has enjoyed a welcome return to form over the last two months, yet the only real alternative to the Scot in that centre-forward role is Danny Graham.
Allardyce has been looking at alternatives, with Sunderland scouting both QPR’s Charlie Austin and Utrecht’s Sebastien Haller over recent weeks - the latter, one of those that the Black Cats considered during the summer.
Both would command fees around the £7million mark though, with Norwich reportedly already making a bid for Haller.
When money was tight at the end of the summer window, is that kind of finance available to Allardyce?
3. Which of the current first-team squad could go?
Allardyce bristled at suggestions last month that Fletcher, Jermain Defoe and Seb Larsson had been lined up to depart in January, when he was still assessing his Sunderland squad.
But he HAS subsequently made up his mind on those who can be deemed surplus to requirement.
Vito Mannone and Jordi Gomez have been linked with moves to Italy, and both could feasibly head to the exit door to free up a chunk of wages, even if Sunderland would recoup little in terms of transfer fees.
Mannone has been back-up keeper for more than a year, with Jordan Pickford potentially returning from his loan at Preston to provide competition for Costel Pantilimon.
Gomez hasn’t appeared since last month’s defeat against Southampton, and wasn’t even on the bench last weekend.
4. Can Sunderland offload more of the dead-wood?
None of those forgotten men still languishing under contract at Sunderland are on huge money, yet collectively the pay packets of Will Buckley, Valentin Roberge and Charis Mavrias add up to a tidy sum.
That’s a drain on the club’s resources, with none of the trio in the frame to contribute to the first-team.
Liam Bridcutt, at least, looks destined to stay at Leeds on loan until the end of the season, unless Brighton make a permanent move, yet Sunderland are still supplementing the midfielder’s wages at Elland Road.
Sunderland drew a blank when they attempted to move these players on during the summer though.
Can they have any more success this time around?