What Britt Assombalonga, Ross McCormack and Daryl Murphy tell us about Sunderland’s striker search

Britt Assombalonga moved from Nottingham Forest to Middlesbrough
Britt Assombalonga moved from Nottingham Forest to Middlesbrough
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Britt Assombalonga really is the kind of signing Sunderland would have loved to make this summer.

Guaranteed goals, a name to excite the fanbase.

Ross McCormack

Ross McCormack

At £15 million, however, and with a bad injury record in recent seasons, it is the kind of luxury that Sunderland can ill afford.

It is a significant statement of intent from Middlesbrough, particularly given a £9 million deal for Martin Braithwaite had been compeleted days previous.

For Nottingham Forest, the money has allowed them to quickly move for Daryl Murphy, paying a fee many would consider over the odds for a 34-year-old.

It reflects the changing nature of the Championship. and the bind the Black Cats find themselves in this summer.

For many other sides in the second tier, they have to find a way to match the spending of sides benefiting from parachute payment riches. Some have looked to heavy investment from their owners, such as Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton and Derby. They are rolling the dice, running big wage bills in the hope that eventually going up will bring belated reward.

Others have torn up their traditional recruitment models in a bid to bridge the gap. Huddersfield had the most success with this, while Brentford have punched above their weight, too.

Sunderland are somewhere in the middle.

Parachute payments mean that, as Simon Grayson himself said, they have far from the lowest budget in the league. They have far from the lowest, either.

So where do they go?

Simon Grayson has prioritised the British Isles for signings, which perhaps reduces the risk of any new player failing to settle, but it also reduces their options. The Assombalonga deal shows that Sunderland are not operating in the premium market. With debt so high, they cannot afford for it to go any futher before parachute payments end and income is dramatically slashed.

Hence why, for example, a low cost move for Daryl Murphy would have appealed. In came Forest, however, with a chunk of the Assombalonga money to bring things seemingly to a swift conclusion.

The interest in Ross McCormack raised eyebrows, and a swoop would certainly be audacious, but it is perhaps more the kind of gamble that Sunderland could consider.

McCormack had a torrid year at Aston Villa, but guarantees goals and with Aston Villa’s spending continuing to grow, something will surely have to give.

Their current strike force is Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Gabby Agbonlahor and McCormack, a signifcant wage commitment when you consider they also have a plethora of attacking midfielders and wingers. McCormack’s reputation may put clubs off but having worked with him before, Grayson clearly feels he can get the best out of him.

Whether the Black Cats could realistically find the money to make it happen is another matter but in the profile of these players, the kind of deal Sunderland are targeting is clear.

It is a search for bargains, whether it be taking a punt on a player whose career has lost momentum or in a younger striker not yet proven enough to attract a bid for the sides who have money to spend. Jordan Hugill is one who clearly comes into that category.

What it also means is that Sunderland are perhaps having to be fairly reactive in the search, waiting to which playes become available at a good price, rather than being able to coerce them into selling through the sheer weight of cash alone. Signing James Vaughan gives the Black Cats some breathing room, now at least having an experienced striker capable of holding the ball up to call on, but there is much work to be done.

Patience will be required, but there could yet be a frustrating wait.

Sunderland are for now simply not in a position to force other club’s hand, as Middlesbrough were with Nottingham Forest.