Last season Sunderland found themselves struggling to keep their heads above the murky waters of relegation. A quick look at the club’s statistics from last year reveals that, despite being almost middle of the table in terms of goals conceded, the Black Cats managed to score just 41 goals. Only QPR and Stoke scored fewer.
The acquisition of Wolverhampton striker Steven Fletcher at the beginning of last season was a bright spot as the Scottish striker managed to score eleven goals before injuring his ankle while on international duty. Fletcher was injured in late March and remained the club’s top goal scorer that season. Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner, who had seven and six goals respectively, were the only other players to come close to Fletcher’s tally. The majority of Sunderland players who found themselves on the score sheet managed just one goal.
In January of 2013, Danny Graham was brought in from Swansea and eventually replaced Fletcher after his injury. The result was eleven matches without a single goal, which is exactly what Sunderland didn’t need. Graham is now on loan to Hull City, while Fletcher isn’t expected to return from injury until September. That leaves Paolo Di Canio looking at his new signing Jozy Altidore to put points on the board. The American striker scored 51 goals in 93 appearances for his former Dutch club, AZ Alkmaar, and has recently experienced a resurgence in the USA national team, netting four goals in eight games this year, a substantial feat after playing only seven matches for the States in 2012 and not recording a single goal.
At only 23-years old, Altidore’s size and speed make him a formidable match for defenses. It may take some time to acclimate, but if he can reproduce any amount of the 31 goals he scored for AZ last season, he will no doubt be Di Canio’s first choice up front. It is, of course, still early to be speculating on the American’s success, especially after his last run in the Premier League with Hull that was, to put it mildly, disappointing. Altidore is a different player now, though. He’s older and has the experience of being the primary goal scorer at a club. It’s difficult to see his form being similar to what it was in 2009-2010.
Altidore failed to score in Sunderland’s pre-season Barclay’s Asia Cup run, but did record an assist in the Black Cat’s 3-1 rout of Tottenham. He looked sharp and played off of Sessegnon well in both the match against Spurs and the final against City, where Sunderland lost 0-1, creating space up front with a few clever runs. Sunderland won’t face many opponents tougher than either Tottenham or City, so any promise shown this early could bode well for his future.
Will Altidore be the answer to the Black Cats’ scoring woes? Perhaps, but Di Canio will have to give him the chance to acclimate to both the side and league. His signing, reported to be around £8.5 million, may be a slight gamble, but if he can become as comfortable as he was at AZ, it’s proven he knows how to score.