Monsieur Salut writes: Chris Coleman has been effusive in his praise of the young stars of his third victory in charge of Sunderland, the 1-0 win against Hull City on Saturday. But this writer suggests there are other prospects possibly available for loan deals – as well as the targets who have necessary experience – who might help Coleman lead the club away from the relegation zone and complete the groundwork for a brighter future …
The uplifting victory against Hull City does not disguise the painful fact that this has been another disastrous season so far for Sunderland since the drop from the Premier League.
The new era that was set to begin under Simon Grayson faltered, the team has consistently looked disjointed and out of sorts while Chris Coleman’s arrival in Grayson’s place has yet to produce a convincing turnaround in performances – and above all consistency.
Sunderland started Saturday’s game rooted to the foot of the Championship table, leaving many to wonder where the goals might come from given the loss of top scorer Lewis Grabban, who ended his loan deal at the Stadium of Light early.
For all of the negatives since relegation, Grabban had given fans a glimmer of hope that things could eventually improve. His 12 goals in 19 games – albeit many of them penalties or consolations, as Coleman has pointed out – was a remarkable hit rate, on average a goal every 130 minutes, for a striker in a struggling side.
But Saturday’s win, and the style in which it was achieved, has rekindled that hope as well as reinforcing the belief that youth could be the answer to Sunderland’s immediate woes and provide the foundation for a better future.
In place of 30-year-old Grabban was 18-year-old Joel Asoro and the panache with which he capped a splendid move for his first senior goal gave the Stadium of Light crowd a rare moment of joy, all the more so as Sunderland clung on to take all three points and move off bottom place.
Asoro and 19-year-old Josh Maja, who scored the winner in the last Sunderland win (at home to Fulham), are not the only bright prospects. A SAFC poll of supporters made 21-year-old midfielder Ethan Robson man of the match while there were also fine displays from Jake Clarke-Salter, the 21-year-old central defender on loan from Chelsea, and George Honeyman, 23, whose incisive, expertly weighted pass set up Asoro for a Defoe-style finish.
But Coleman’s sights may be set on other young players during the transfer window. For example he knows 18-year-old Liverpool striker Ben Woodburn well through the Wales set up – Woodburn is the second-youngest player to score at full international leve as well as being the youngest to score for Liverpool – while Manchester City’s Lukas Nmecha, 19, is also attracting serious interest.
While Coleman’s priority may be experience, having lost James Vaughan as well as Grabban, it would come as no surprise if one or both headed north in order to gain vital first team experience.
Nmecha, 19, is a prolific goals scorer at U21/U23 level and is comfortable at holding up the ball as well as looking to get in behind defences and running at people.
He’s trained with the City first team on a few occasions and is now at the age when he’s going to be ready for first team football. Woodburn, 18, was given his Wales debut by Coleman and has already made his mark at both international and club level. The Liverpool attacker can play through the middle as well as out wide and this would certainly give Sunderland more options in the final third.
The likes of Nmecha and Woodburn will be fearless and totally unknown commodities in the Championship. Not only that but they will have a point to prove as it will be the first time they’ve played first team football on a regular basis.
If Coleman doesn’t feel youth is the way forward or if he wants a mixture of youth and experience, there are other options including Derby’s Chris Martin,29, said to be the chief current target. Burnley’s Jon Walters, 34, is also understood to be available for loan but now appears an unlikely prospect after picking up an injury that will keep him out of football for several weeks
Whatever Coleman decides to do, one thing is for certain, it needs to be done quickly. Beating Hull provides breathing space, with the next game – a vital away trip to fellow strugglers Birmingham City -delayed by the FA Cup programme to next Tuesday night and the new manager needs to build on the new-found confidence and belief to ensure that modest victory kick starts the club’s revival.
Not surprisingly, most trusted online betting sites have Sunderland in the top five to be relegated. However, established sports betting brands like Unibet still view Sunderland’s position salvageable; even when occupying bottom place, SAFC were not favourites to drop to League One.
In fact Burton Albion and Birmingham look much clearer candidates for relegation, with Sunderland, Bolton, Hull and Barnsley all have fighting chances of survival.
A couple of wins on the bounce – as opposed to occasional encouraging results followed by further disappointment – would make a vast difference to Sunderland’s position in the table. And there is at last an air of confidence that Coleman is the man who can make that happen.