Where can Grayson Still Look to Strengthen?

Sunderland were given an extremely slim chance of yo-yoing back into the Premiership at the first time of asking by the bookmakers this season.


They were made ninth favourites to secure promotion, behind teams like Wolves, Norwich and Derby, and not much action went on them. It is easy to see why as Sunderland’s financial model was not exactly the epitome of prudence and they had to offload several players to trim their wage bill after finishing bottom of the Premiership. They gambled on beating the drop and it failed and now they are shorn of the services of Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford, Victor Anichebe, Seb Larsson, Fabio Borini and more.


But experienced head Simon Grayson has replaced David Moyes and made a few interesting signings. Early signs have been very positive as the Black Cats took four points from their opening two games. It should not be lost on fans that they drew with Derby and beat Norwich, both teams that have been rated as having a better chance of earning promotion than Sunderland this season. Grayson is rightly delighted with the start to his tenure on Wearside and he should be full of optimism as Sunderland have invariably done very well in this division.


However, if they want to bounce straight back up to the Premiership they may need to loosen the purse strings and speculate to accumulate. Compare them to rivals Middlesbrough, who were also relegated last season but clearly were better prepared for the drop. They have kept the bulk of last season’s squad and thus far supplemented it with £45 million worth of talent. That is why they were installed as joint favourites to win the division, along with Aston Villa, who broke the bank to sign former Chelsea captain John Terry on high wages. The likes of Wolves, Fulham, Sheff Wed and Leeds have all significantly strengthened and Sunderland could do with some more players that know this division well.


It is a case of so far, so good in this summer’s transfer market for the Black Cats. Aiden McGeady has the potential to take the Championship by storm, and James Vaughan and Jason Steele are solid players at this level. But there are still several weak areas in the squad and key positions that Sunderland need to bolster their ranks in.


The most obvious gaping hole is at centre back. So far they have kept hold of Lamina Kone and Papy Djilobodji and if they are still at the Stadium of Light come September 1 it will be a real coup for the club as they both shone intermittently over the last couple of seasons and could star in the Championship if they find consistency. But Jan Kirchoff and Joleon Lescott have both gone and reinforcements are needed at the back.


Another problem area is on the wing. McGeady is an excellent signing and Duncan Watmore is a decent option, while George Honeyman looks an interesting prospect. But Sunderland have lost Borini, shipped Jeremain Lens back on loan and moved on Steven Pienaar and Will Buckley. If they can keep Wahbi Khazri it would be another coup, but like Kone he is agitating for a move away and could go.


And arguably the biggest area that needs strengthening is up front. Defoe kept the team afloat with his goals for a couple of seasons but he did not get much support. Vaughan looks decent but there are question marks over his ability to score enough goals to fire the Black Cats to promotion. Newcastle and Brighton went up automatically last season because Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray were on fire. Sunderland need someone like that because their rivals can count on the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Jonathan Kodija and Chris Wood.


These are clearly areas that Grayson needs to address, but it must be an extremely difficult job right now. Many of his squad feel they are above playing in the Championship and several are looking to move on. If Grayson can keep Kone, Djilobodji, Khazri, Jack Rodwell and Bryan Oviedo they will have the sort of side that really can challenge for the Championship title. But that is a big if. Either way, Grayson and Martin Bain need to go on a recruitment drive. There have been changes to the backroom staff but that duo needs to set about finding proven Championship quality, bringing in a couple of stars from abroad and ideally securing the services of a couple of players plying their trade in the Premiership.


Painful as it may be to hear, Newcastle played a blinder in the summer transfer market last season and they were rewarded with the title. They sold their stars and trimmed the wage bill, and they brought in just the right players to win promotion. Convincing Matt Ritchie and Gayle to drop a division and join the revolution was a real triumph, but they were sold on the dream of joining such a big club that would soon be back in the top fight. Sunderland are a similarly big club and can sell a similar dream. If they get it right they will walk this division following their strong start. The latest Sun Bets football betting odds show they have already gone in to 9/2 to be promoted, but they are still ninth favourites. That will not last long if they make positive moves in the market and snap up the likes of Yassine Ayoub, Sean Raggett and more, so it might be worth backing them sooner rather than later.



Author bio

Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and tipster. He spent several years living in the North East and hopes Sunderland can return to the top flight soon.

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