There was an audible sense of relief on Wearside Saturday and for a change it was the home fans going away happy. The weekend saw a 4-2 win against relegation threatened Wigan Athletic for Sunderland. However like so often recently for Sunderland they made it hard for themselves, and Sunderland’s recent form has been so abysmal that you wouldn’t have gotten good odds for a home win at any online gambling website.
Mohamad Diame’s 60th minute drive must have left many Black Cats fans thinking another defeat was on the cards, but a quick salvo from Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Henderson quickly turned the game on it’s head.
A second for Henderson and a first for January signing Stephane Sessengnon gave them a comfortable lead before a rare goal from Argentine striker Franco Di Santo left the game at 4-2. Despite sitting reasonably comfortable on 38 points prior to kick off, this was a vital win for Sunderland as they desperately tried to stop the rot of recent months. The importance is not lost on Wigan as well with games running out for Roberto Martinez as he desperately tries to keep The Latics in the Premier League.
It wasn’t all fantastic for Sunderland however. Both Danny Wellbeck and goalscorer Gyan pulled up with injuries leaving the club with no recognized strikers available for the weekend’s game with Fulham. Thus leaving their season to splutter across the finish line as they desperately try to get to the summer and a hopefully a number of new recruits.
Here are the key decisions Sunderland will need to make this summer:
- The first real decision Steve Bruce will be forced to make is with his current loan signings. John Mensah, Sulley Muntari, Nedum Onouha and Danny Welbeck all joined Sunderland on a temporary basis with all bar Welbeck being available for purchase from their parent club. With Mensah only playing sixteen times this season he is in no way likely to trigger his permenant transfer clause. His persistent injury problems are a likely put off for Bruce despite his unquestionable quality. One player you would imagine will move north is Nedum Onuoha. Surprisingly overlooked by England, the Man City defender has been brilliant for Sunderland. The crowning moment of his season coming against Chelsea where he went on a mazy run before slotting it past Petr Cech. Sulley Muntari is needed to provide options in midfield with Lee Cattermole having an indifferent season (his disciplinary record again being the pinnacle of much criticism bore at the former Wigan and Middlesbrough man).
- As for El-Mohammady, the jury is still very much out after March saw him complete a permanent transfer to Sunderland for £2m. Having Pace and a good work effort, comparisons to Jonas Gutierrez of Newcastle could be made. He’s a solid worker but he lacks the final ball to make him truly dangerous. Of course Bruce is aware he must build a squad not a first eleven, a lesson one would hope he has learned this season.
- With the likely departures of Argentine defender Marco Angeleri and midfielder Cristian Riveros, Bruce will most definitely need quantity and quality in equal measure. Whether he will also look to dip into the loan market with such frequency is also up for debate. While it allows for a good indepth trial period for players, it also provides an unstable footing as should a player perform well he goes back onto the market at the end of the season with any number of your rivals able to bid for him.
- He may also find it a struggle to hold onto a player he actually owns in the shape of Asamoah Gyan. The Ghanian striker has had an impressive debut season in England which has not gone unnoticed. Obviously with strikers always in demand many have been quick to link the man nicknamed ‘Baby Jet’ with a move away from Wearside.
- Quinn is quick to disparage rumors of Gyan leaving and he will not have failed to notice the ovation Sunderland fans gave former Newcastle winger Charles N’zogbia on Saturday. He has been long courted by his former manager Bruce with numerous sources linking him to Sunderland and it would appear the fans are hoping the deal finally happens in the summer. One thing is for sure and that’s the temperamental Frenchman will not come cheap. Newcastle had a £12m bid rebuffed in January so Sunderland can look to spend upwards of £10m at least to get their man even if Wigan do succumb to relegation.
In the grander scheme of things the major disappointment from this season will be Sunderland’s failure to maintain a top half position and secure a first season in the Europa League. Many attribute the loss in form to the loss of Darren Bent but the lack of depth and bad injuries are really what curtailed Bruce’s men, so with next season in mind Bruce will not be allowed to make the same mistakes twice.