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The positions where Sunderland could still do business in the final days of the January transfer window assessed

Sunderland made their fourth addition of the January window on Wednesday, with Jack Clarke joining on loan from Tottenham Hotspur until the end of the season.

By Phil Smith
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 12:53 pm

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It has been a positive window so far but for both club and supporters there are still some key areas to address before the window closes next week.

Here, Phil Smith runs through the positions where there could still be movement...

A POSSIBLE DEFENSIVE RESHUFFLE

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Some defensive movement is expected before the window shuts on Monday night but exactly how that looks remains unclear.

Denver Hume's departure for Portsmouth made sense, with the 23-year-old eager to get regular game time after recent injury struggles. With Dennis Cirkin establishing himself in the side of late, that looked unlikely on Wearside and a £200,000 fee (with a significant sell-on clause) has helped the Black Cats with their incoming business in other areas of the pitch.

The question is whether Sunderland need a replacement.

In the long term they should be strong on that flank, with Niall Huggins making a significant impression in his early appearances.

Sunderland are in talks with Jermain Defoe over a possible return to the Stadium of Light

Huggins will be out until March with a stress fracture of the back, though, and will be short of match fitness when he does return.

With Trai Hume still settling into life on Wearside after his move from Linfield Town, there is an argument that an additional full back would be a good move to ensure

Sunderland have sufficient depth to protect against injury and suspension for the remaining stages of the campaign.

How Sunderland feel Hume is progressing could be key on that front, as Bailey Wright and Carl Winchester have both proven themselves more than capable of stepping into that position.

There is also the potential of some movement at centre-back.

Arbenit Xhemajli is eager to get regular senior minutes as he steps up his comeback from a major knee injury, and there is an acceptance that he is unlikely to get past Callum Doyle on current form.

Sunderland are more than willing to support his desire for more game time, but will not let him go unless there is adequate cover. At the moment that is not the case and particularly when injuries further forward mean that Johnson is currently using three centre-halves on a relatively regular basis.

That, of course, could slowly begin to change as the likes of Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke get up to speed.

AN UNDER-THE-RADAR PRIORITY?

Though the business done by Sunderland so far this month has been positively received, there are a couple of positions where there appears to be broad consensus amongst the fanbase that more needs to be done.

One is clearly up front, as we will come to later.

The other position where many clearly feel more depth is needed in central midfield.

It's not a reflection on the current incumbents of that position, by any means. Dan Neil has had an outstanding campaign so far, and Corry Evans has been excellent when available.

But the experienced midfielder has had injury issues, and while Carl Winchester has done well when called upon he has often been required to play at right back.

With Luke O'Nien injured with a shoulder issue, the sense is that some cover is needed and also some physicality, which was one of the key attributes O'Nien brought to the table.

The popular midfielder is making good strides in his recovery, but is another unlikely to be in action until March.

It’s another position where the club will have to find the balance between not overloading the squad for the long term, but ensuring it is fully covered for the challenges ahead.

They do still have one matchday loan slot available after the return of Frederik Alves to West Ham United, which could yet prove an important avenue in the closing stages of the window.

THE KEY DEAL

That Sunderland need cover and competition for Ross Stewart is obvious, though the situation is a touch more complicated than it was at the start of the January window.

For one, there is now significant confidence that Nathan Broadhead will be back for the promotion run-in. Currently stepping up his rehab at Everton, the 23-year-old is firmly on track to make his comeback in March and there is growing belief that having avoided surgery and made solid initial progress in his recovery, he will be able to make an impact.

The arrival of Jack Clarke also offers more cover.

Though primarily a winger capable of playing off either flank, the 21-year-old has on occasion played as the central striker for Tottenham Hotspur U23s this season.

Sunderland are thought to have been impressed with his performances in that role and believe it's one he could bring to League One, if required.

It's not an easy position to recruit into, given that any arrival knows that the prospect of displacing the outstanding Stewart anytime soon is remote.

That's one of the key reasons why an emotional return to the club for Jermain Defoe would make sense beyond purely sentimental grounds.

The 39-year-old would be capable of making a game-changing impact, and would also be clearly tactically agile enough to partner Stewart on occasions, as Broadhead did to great effect before his hamstring injury.

Sunderland also believe that providing the deal is right and everyone is satisfied, Defoe's return would offer a major off-pitch boost, given the standards and professionalism for which the 39-year-old is renowned.

Talks have continued this week with a number of clubs still interested in signing the striker. For fans, it would be the bonus addition to hopefully round off a positive window.

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