Sunderland are sitting pretty in the Premier League. When Ellis Short took over the club 18 months ago from the Irish consortium, Niall Quinn made one mission statement, to “never again be drawn into a relegation battle” like that which Sunderland had had to endure the previous two seasons under the guide of Roy Keane and then Ricky Sbragia. To that aim Sunderland are succeeding with flying colours, but as always in football it is important that they push on from this position to secure a spot in the top 6.
The shock departure of Darren Bent this week has shook the club to the core and thrown the proverbial spanner. Whilst Bent has not been on sparkling form in the last month, he is a goal scorer. This loss of goals will now have to be replenished by the rest of the team, mainly £13m summer signing Asamoah Gyan. The Ghanaian international has netted 9 times for the Wearsiders since his transfer from Stade Rennais, most notably 2 weeks ago in the home leg of the Wear-Tyne derby. However, many of Steve Bruce’s foreign signings both for Sunderland and his previous club Wigan, have taken time to settle to the pace of the premier league, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia did not start a match for the Latics until 8 months after signing for the north west outfit, whilst Charles N’Zogbia and Maynor Figueroa also took time to adapt to conditions.
Gyan seems no different to any of these players, and whilst the promising Christian Riveros, and Marco Angeleri can be afforded to sit on the bench whilst they adapt, Sunderland need goals and they need them now. Exploratory knee surgery means that Danny Welbeck (a huge candidate for young player of the season) is sidelined for up to 8 weeks. Add that to an injury list that already includes Frazier Campbell and you can see why Gyan must be feeling the heat.
He has impressed in moments this season without ever excelling. A fine first touch and a great vision to read the flow of play is combined with slow release play, mostly poor end product and a hesitation on the ball that is any centre half’s wet dream. He looks in spells to contain many of the qualities of a young Dwight Yorke, in his eagerness to achieve the unthinkable and his love for playing the game the right way, however, if he is ever to match the Trinidadian’s goal scoring record he needs to combine his tremendous skill with Bent’s ability to run the channels.
The Black Cats are at possibly the most crucial point in their development for the last 10 years. Not since Peter Reid’s days have they been so close to Europe, and all of the things that come with it. Improved finances, a wider fan base, but most importantly a selling point to any prospective players. It would appear that Welbeck’s more than impressive performances this season will be enough to make Sir Alex hold on to him this summer, but if Gyan can justify his price tag and take up the slack that Bent has left him, then Steve Bruce may be able to spend some of Bent’s £24m in the summer to bring in another top class striker to partner him. If he can’t then Sunderland may be doomed to join Reading, Fulham and Bolton Wanderers in the group headed ‘close, but no cigar’.
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