The transfer state of play at Sunderland explained and the 'four or five' deals still to happen

Sunderland still have a month to conclude their transfer business but Alex Neil has been clear that in an ideal world his squad will be largely settled well before then.

By Phil Smith
Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 12:45 pm

Neil said after the Coventry City game that he still wants to make four or five additions to his squad, which in numbers at least is still down on last season.

As well as that, he said the 1-1 draw showed how the intensity of football at the second-tier level will impact a young squad largely inexperienced at the level. With five substitutions allowed this season, more depth and competition is imperative.

So what's the state of play and where might those four or five deals take place? And could those incomings lead to any outgoings?

Sunderland boss Alex Neil remains keen to strengthen his squad significantly

Here we take you through the business still to be done....

THE THIRD SENIOR GOALKEEPER

You probably wouldn't mark this up as the main transfer priority but it's a position where we may yet see some further movement.

Anthony Patterson couldn't have done much more to show he is ready to step up to Championship level on opening day, commanding his box well and making one outstanding save from Jonathan Panzo.

It will be a long campaign, though, and new signing Alex Bass is similarly inexperienced in the second tier.

Which perhaps explains why speaking to supporters on a BBC Radio Newcastle phone-in last week, Neil heavily hinted that he wanted a third senior goalkeeper.

"Alex Bass has come in to supplement the goalkeeping group, which we're naturally light on because we'd lost Lee Burge and Thorben Hoffmann from last year," Neil said.

"Ross Stewart is the only natural striker we have at the moment [Ellis Simms signed two days later] so they're two areas where we need to strengthen."

DEFENSIVE COVER

In this part of the pitch Sunderland don't look too far off, certainly not when you consider that Lynden Gooch and Carl Winchester look to be viewed primarily as right-sided defensive options by Neil.

The key question is whether Neil feels he needs a touch more cover on the other flank, where Niall Huggins is still some way off returning from stress fractures in both of his heels.

Aji Alese is capable of playing left back or the left side of a back three, but is still adjusting to a new environment himself.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD

Sunderland have talent and experience in this position but the key question is whether they have the right blend for the 46-game season.

Jay Matete has real promise but was left out of the matchday squad by Neil on Sunday, while Luke O'Nien and Dan Neil are stepping up to a new level.

It risks putting a significant burden on captain Corry Evans, who is probably the only natural in the holding role. Strengthen there and Sunderland can dip Neil and Matete in and out when required.

THE FORWARD LINE

There's no doubt that this is the main position where Neil and Sunderland want to further strengthen between now and the end of the window.

Last week's arrival of Ellis Simms is of course a major boost. Simms is more than capable of leading the line on his own when required, but would also be comfortable in a two with Ross Stewart. That gives Neil both cover and flexibility, particularly as there will be times when he wants to match up with one of the many sides in the league who play a 3-5-2.

Is it enough, though?

Neil could not have been clearer after the draw with Coventry City than on its own, it is not. Asked if he still wanted another striker, he replied: "Definitely."

It's well known that Sunderland would like to bring Nathan Broadhead back to the club, but his position at Everton is still unclear. He is not currently in the first-team plans as he enters the final year of his deal, but The Athletic reported this morning that they would like him to sign a new deal before going on another loan. That would explain why there has been such a delay in resolving his future.

Sunderland have also been aware from early on in the summer that there are other Championship clubs interested, and so will have other contingency targets.

Neil's interesting squad selection on Sunday lunchtime also suggested that he may yet look add another wide forward/winger.

Leon Dajaku did not make the squad primarily due to a lack of fitness, having missed the last two pre-season friendlies with a minor groin issue and only returning to training in the latter part of the week. Jack

Diamond, meanwhile, was left out in what Neil confirmed was a tactical call.

Portsmouth boss Danny Cowley played down suggestions last week that Fratton Park was a potential destination for the 22-year-old this season, but it looks increasingly likely that he will be allowed to leave in search of regular senior football. Whether that is permanently or on loan likely depends on whether any interested parties can meet the club's valuation; he is only part of the way through a long-term contract and showed his promise at Harrogate Town last season.

Regardless, given Dajaku is also stepping up to a new league it would be no surprise to see Neil try and add some more depth. Sunday's game underlined the importance of having game-changing options with five substitutes allowed this season, and Sunderland look a touch underpowered as it stands.