Salut! Sunderland was equally adamant that Bent should not have been allowed to go anywhere without a replacement – even a stopgap one – lined up. We allowed for the possibility that what Bruce took to calling a “calculated gamble” was not his choice, but thrust upon him by an owner thrilled to bits with the business aspect of Bent’s sale to Villa.
If he really was content to muddle through with one fit first-team striker, pinning hopes on the returns in due course of Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell, then that stands, in my humble view, as his biggest error of the season.
We went from being top six to enduring the real if mild risk of becoming bottom three; we finished in the top 10 thanks – yes – to some decent back-end-of-season wins but mainly, perhaps, to the vagaries of an extraordinarily tight cluster from eighth downwards.
There is no desire to get the new season off on a critical note three weeks before it begins. We have been warm in our praise of Bruce’s acquisitions. We are guardedly excited about the coming season.
But it would be a lie to say we are convinced our shopping should be over. And good a player as Charles N’Zogbia may be – and such a self-effacing lad too! – the need still seems to be up front.
Asamoah Gyan had some terrific moments last season and is on the brink of becoming a seriously good Premier League striker. But we have already been warned not to expect instant magic from either Connor Wickham or Ji Dong-won, wonderful prospects maybe but young and untried at the highest level. And that leaves no one. We have no guarantees on Campbell’s return and, therefore, no second striker with significant Premier experience.
Bruce, interviewed by the Hartlepool Mail. says he is happy with a 4-4-1-1 formation in any case, especially with Stéphane Sessegnon shaping up well, slotted behind a lone striker, in pre-season:
“If you’re playing against good players, you leave yourself open at the back by playing 4-4-2. There’s not many teams now, who play two out-and-out strikers. One’s always off the main striker in the midfield area.
It suits Sess and it suits the team and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen of him. There’s other players who can play in that position, plus there’s the two boys who’ve just come in and Asamoah as well.”
We’ll see. Bruce insists it would work even if Sess were unavailable, since one or more of the midfield recruits – choose from Gardner, Larsson or Vaughan – could also assume the role. But what if Gyan is also out, and neither Ji Dong-won nor Wickham is yet quite ready to take his place?
Tell me I am wrong if you disagree. But I’d cheerfully sacrifice N’Zogbia in favour of a proper, seasoned striker. It could be someone on his final payday, though not Heskey please. Others will have ideas on possible candidates.
It may not happen, but I happen to believe Steve Bruce, in his heart, agrees. Why else would he have seemed so keen to welcome the return of Welbeck on almost any basis?