Why Sunderland DON’T need to rely on January transfer signings

Patrick van Aanholt
Patrick van Aanholt
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Despite the fact that it’s still two and a bit weeks until Christmas Day, plenty are already turning their minds to the January sales.

After our dismal start to the season, it’s no surprise fans are pinning their hopes on the transfer window.

Although the form of many of our players has improved since then, having just an over-the-hill Wes Brown as back-up to our three starting centre-backs is hardly the ideal situation.

There are doubts about our cover in midfield as well.

With Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson missing against Arsenal, Big Sam was forced to turn to Ola Toivonen to partner Yann M’Vila in the centre.

While the Swede actually had one of his better performances, this isn’t a player I would be too comfortable relying on week in, week out.

Therefore it’s natural for a lot of expectations to be placed on yet another raft of incoming signings.

But if there is anything recent seasons have taught us, it’s that we rarely seem to get the January window right.

Last season saw the arrival of Jermain Defoe. While the striker has found his stride this season, it was trying to shoehorn the Englishman into his starting XI that cost Gus Poyet his job.

In fact, a flawed mid-season striker hunt has become something of a Wearside tradition. 2014 saw the arrival of the lesser-spotted Nacho Scocco, and 2013 was the year of Danny Graham’s ill-fated move from Swansea.

One of the persistent problems Sunderland have had in this Premier League stint is that each new manager feels the need to draft in a new bunch of players.

With no one ever achieving enough to see their “project” out, this has led to a disjointed squad littered with players bought for different plans.

With this in mind, I’m unwilling to put all of my hopes on a mad trolley dash in the New Year. What has persistently saved us is the manager somehow galvanising his team in the back end of the campaign to complete another great escape.

Most of the time the foundation of this galvanised team has been the old-timers in the squad.

It is this ability to make do and mend, rather than clever January purchases, which has kept us in the top flight. Therefore, it’s hugely encouraging that we are already seeing Sam Allardyce knitting together a coherent team from the leftovers of his predecessors.

Unable to find a defensive balance that was working, Allardyce has put three centre-backs into the team.

This has allowed the adventure of Patrick van Aanholt to work to the team’s advantage, rather than being a liability.

The loss of Cattermole and Larsson at the weekend could have been disastrous. However, even in defeat, the balance we somehow found with Toivonen and M’Vila, assisted by Watmore and Borini, showed that Allardyce can think on his feet and come up with a system that works even when lacking his key men.

It’s this ability to make do with the players he has at his disposal that I have found most encouraging about Big Sam so far.

Traditionally, Sunderland only come to life in the back end of the season. Allardyce is showing now that he is already able to put together a decent, hard-working Premier League team.

His successes have come from decent coaching and management. This is far more stable than just stressing the need for a wholesale change of personnel before his ideas can take root.

Hopefully the foundations Allardyce is building will mean that the signings we will undoubtedly look to make in January will be regarded as useful additions, rather than having the entire hope of our season pinned on their form.

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