SUNDERLAND head into January having picked up a respectable, though slightly disappointing, four points from three festive fixtures.
Our fourth win in a row against Newcastle United may have ended 1-0, but it was a game in which we created chances and plenty of them. Not half chances or long range efforts, but good, clear cut ones, which is something we’ve struggled to do all season.
Unfortunately, rather than proving to be a turning point in our campaign, Sunderland reverted to type in the second half against Hull City and then more predictably away at Aston Villa. If ever a game had 0-0 written all over it, it was our visit to Villa Park.
Never have two sides looked more likely to draw a blank against each other than these two.
As things stand, halfway through the season and heading into another transfer window, now is a good time as any to take stock, particularly in the context of our position last season.
Some supporters have been frustrated by Poyet’s system, feeling it’s too inhibitive and that we don’t create enough chances, but, in fairness to him, we are in a far better position than we were this time last year.
Even forgetting the fact he’s won three derbies in a row and taken us to a League Cup final, it must not be forgotten that Poyet saved us from almost certain relegation after being served up a mess by predecessor Paolo Di Canio.
Indeed, the Italian promised an attacking philosophy, which was an unmitigated disaster.
Poyet is right to be conservative given the tools at his disposal and he has also been hampered by injuries in his squad. With the positive news that Patrick van Aanholt and Anthony Reveillere are returning to training, the full-back issue which has blighted the club of late will hopefully be resolved in the very near future.
Whilst Santiago Vergini has done a decent job as a makeshift right-back and both Billy Jones and Reveillere have worked manfully as left-backs, the return of balance to the side in those areas is crucial to our success as an attacking force.
Without comfortable, forward thinking full-backs, Sunderland simply do not have any width, while the likes of Connor Wickham and Adam Johnson need players to go on the outside to give them room to come in and create or get shots on goal.
That said, even with those players returning, some additional quality and pace in the final third would not go amiss.
Steven Fletcher has started to look the part as a lone central striker, particular when Connor Wickham plays from the left and gets close enough to support him, but there is still a distinct lack of pace going forward.
With the transfer window opening and links already surfacing, it’s no surprise to see us linked to someone like Mohamed Salah, who is exactly the type of player this squad is missing.
Similarly, while having a solid, functional midfield three is a huge improvement on the days when Di Canio took us to Crystal Palace and played Sebastian Larsson and David Vaughan as a central midfield pair, there is still a piece missing from that particular jigsaw.
Another player returning from injury could well slot into that position quite comfortably.
Emanuele Giaccherini thinks he’s best suited to a central role and he could negate the need for further January investment.
One thing is certain, if we can see the problems, he can too and what better time to go out and address them than now.
* The Wise Men Say podcast is available every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.