The Sunderland AFC Q&A: Injury and transfer latest, free agent and Ellis Simms update among key issues under spotlight

Sunderland have entered into the international break in high spirits after taking four points from two challenging away fixtures.

After 10 games they sit fifth in the Championship with an impressive 15 points from 10 games.

In our regular Q&A we run you through all the latest, from injuries to transfers to tactical dilemmas:

How do you assess Tony Mowbray's start at Sunderland AFC?

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray

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It's early days but so far he's done superbly.

He showed his experience in the first week to recognise he'd inherited a good side in a real rhythm, option to leave that in place rather than let his ego intervene and make sweeping changes.Injuries to Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms forced a rethink and his tactical flexibility since then has been excellent.

He was then rewarded for an incredibly brave set of five substitutions at Watford, leaving an inexperienced but exciting side to turn the game around.

He's a very genuine character and clearly very enthusiastic about developing and improving his players.

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At the moment it looks a good fit.

Would you bring Everton loanee Simms straight back into the XI v Preston, if fit, or leave as is given recent away results?

If there's any doubt at all over his fitness I'd bring him in from the bench, as the October schedule is brutal and Sunderland can't afford to lose him for any stretch of time.

But if, as seems likely, he's ready to go then I would absolutely bring him in.

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Reading were left floundering by the introduction of a false nine but with proper time to prepare, Watford handled it much better a few days later.

I think we'll see Mowbray operating with a back four a lot more often to bring the best out of Roberts and Clarke as well as Bennette and Amad, but for me that presence through the middle and ability to stretch the game is still important.

We will see a lot more of the false nine, though, as Simms can't play every minute.

Realistically, what is the aim for this squad this season given the brilliant start?

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Sunderland have been really careful not to be definitive about their ambitions and ultimately it's still about consolidation.

From what I've seen though, there's no reason why they can't look to be a top-half side this season. I think it'll be difficult for such an inexperienced side to push for the play-offs over 46 games, particularly if there are any more injury issues.

We took a close look at the data beyond their performance so far earlier this week and the conclusion was mostly confirmation of what we knew: they've adapted very well, have nothing to fear from this league but a way to go, understandably, before they can be considered one of its top teams.

How have you assessed the Championship standard this season?

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I think it's incredibly competitive and the fact that there are only five points between 6th and 22nd underlines that.

I expect the teams with bigger budgets to eventually start to break clear, particularly once the likes of Watford and Burnley see their squads and playing styles settle after a big summer turnover.

Beyond the top four or five, though, I genuinely think there are ten or so team who would all at this stage think they have half a chance of breaking into the top eight.

Looking ahead to January, what are the transfer priorities?

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I think there are probably three main areas to look at as it stands.

Clearly Sunderland would ideally add another striker to their ranks, having come close to signing Nathan Broadhead permanently in the summer.

We also know that in the closing stages of the transfer window they were looking to sign another defender, and a versatile player who could offer cover for Corry Evans in defensive midfield and at full back.

Of course there a few factors that could have an impact between now and then, such as how Sunderland's youngsters settle and how well Dan Ballard recovers from his foot injury, having initially been expected to be back in action around the time of the return from the World Cup break.

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Will Sunderland dip into the free agent market do you think before then given they still only have one fit striker?

I think it's highly unlikely at this point. I think there was probably a brief window where they would have considered it, but the manner of the team's performances against Reading and Watford probably put an end to any current discussions.

Tony Mowbray made clear that he thinks it's a big risk to bring in a player when you probably haven't had the time to do your full background on their personality as well as their playing attributes.

His preference was always to give an opportunity to those already in the squad and the performances of Jewison Bennette and Amad Diallo will have given him even more confidence that he can find goals from within his current squad.

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With Patrick Roberts playing so well on the right wing, we might see a system with one striker in the starting XI more often.

There is a fair degree of confidence that Ellis Simms will be back after the international break, given that he was relatively close to featuring at Watford.

It's not ideal, and it is a risk, but Sunderland seem content to wait until January as it stands.

Another injury or a setback for Simms could change that but to be honest, with a three-week break in November for the World Cup we're reaching the point where it makes little sense to sign a player who could be weeks away from full match fitness.