The THREE key areas Sunderland must address in January if Lee Johnson is to win promotion

“Nobody gets justice. People only get good and bad luck.”

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 7:12 pm

That, from Orson Welles, probably sums Sunderland’s situation up at the moment.

The Wearsiders’ summer wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but you could at least see what the club were trying to do.

Kristjaan Speakman, Stuart Harvey and the transfer team approached the window in stages, looking at free agents first and then seeking to raid the academy market.

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Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson.

Sunderland waited and attempted to play the game, to make it work in their favour.

They made some decent signings but the squad was still a little short, something Johnson himself admitted.

Since then, though, Sunderland have been extremely unfortunate with injuries, which has prompted the head coach into a tactical re-think.

But there is a silver lining, the January transfer window is just one month away… here, we take a look at the key areas the club will look at strengthening this season:

Sunderland need some full-backs

Dennis Cirkin, a signing from Tottenham, and Niall Huggins, who came in from Leeds United, were impressive until both summer arrivals picked up injuries.

Cirkin, typically a left-back, was utilised often by Johnson with the 19-year-old displaying maturity beyond his years and bags of ability to nail down a starting spot in the early part of the season.

But he won’t be back until 2022. That situation was made worse by Denver Hume’s injury.

The defender, 23, signed a new deal in the summer but has hardly been fit so far this campaign leaving many to believe that he cannot be relied upon.

When he was brought to the club, it was thought Huggins, 22, could challenge for both the left and right-back positions and provide cover but he too is out until next year.

Luke O’Nien, who can deputise at full-back, has also been ruled out for several months at the very minimum.

With the aforementioned all suffering medium to long-term injuries, Sunderland will likely look to add a few short-term fixes in the full-back area this winter.

The Black Cats remain light in central midfield

The next problem area is midfield. Although his form has dipped in recent games, summer arrival Corry Evans has shown he can control games at League One level.

He is another, though, who struggles for fitness and suffers injury setbacks on a regular basis. He needs to be used sparingly but, at the moment, Sunderland do not have the personal to do so.

Luke O’Nien has been deployed as a midfielder often by Johnson this season but, as mentioned, is currently injured.

That leaves the good but inexperienced Dan Neil and Carl Winchester, who has been played mostly at right-back during the early part of the season, as Sunderland’s only real pure central midfielders in the senior set-up.

Although Elliot Embleton and Alex Pritchard can both play there, they are players best utilised further up the pitch.

Sunderland do have the option to promote youth. There’s Stephen Wearne, Harrison Sohna and Ellis Taylor but the trio are very inexperienced when it comes to league football.

That leaves Black Cats with some decisions to make in January.

Sunderland could probably do with another attacker/striker

Ross Stewart has been superb this season but what happens if he picks up an injury?

There’s Nathan Broadhead, who scored a lovely goal against Cambridge United last weekend, but the Welshman has suffered injuries of his own this season.

Will Harris has performed admirably in a couple of first-team league cameos but is probably not ready to lead the line as a starting striker just yet.

It feels like Sunderland are two bad tackles away from a catastrophic crisis in the striking department.

And in wide attacking areas, Sunderland have experienced more bad luck.

Lynden Gooch, usually a winger, is having to be deployed as an attacking wing-back in a back-five as Johnson hunts for solutions to the injury crisis.

Aided McGeady is currently out of action and could be sidelined for quite some time, leaving Sunderland without an important creative spark, despite his patchy form.

Summer arrival Leon Dajaku has shown glimpses of quality during his short stay but has been largely inconsistent and it remains to be seen whether or not he can be relied upon.

Aiden O’Brien is fit though, and he has proven himself to be a decent enough option both out wide and up front but is he enough by himself? You’d have to say probably not.

League One is a marathon, not a sprint and Sunderland will likely need reinforcements if they are to get over the line at the fourth time of asking.

What has Lee Johnson said about the injury situation?

Sunderland returned to action against Cambridge United on Saturday afternoon and switched from Johnson’s preferred 4-2-2-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations and deployed Gooch at wing-back in a back-five with Winchester in midfield.

Speaking after Sunderland’s win last Saturday, he said: "We changed the shape and I thought that went well,” Johnson said.

"We might have to register myself and Jamie McAllister! I’m going to have to be tactically flexible, and every now and then we’re going to have a square peg in a round hole.

"We probably had fifteen players today.

"We’ll have to go again in this tough spell and bundle through to January.”

The Black Cats are set to take on Oldham in the Papa John’s Trophy at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday night but it is unclear yet as to how Johnson will line-up with a rotated squad possible.