The Black Cats’ signings have been solid rather than spectacular as they look to steady themselves in the Championship, but off- and on-field problems persist
3 August ~ It would be an understatement to say that this has been a summer of turbulence on Wearside. Despite David Moyes being hired as the man for the long haul, so gutless was last season’s relegation that he had to depart as Sunderland manager, leaving owner Ellis Short looking for his eighth appointment in seven years.
After the club’s unsuccessful pursuit of Aberdeen’s Derek McInnes, Simon Grayson was wrested from Preston North End. Grayson’s opening utterances offered a refreshing change from the negativity that had dogged the Black Cats under Moyes, with him emphasising the need for hard work and collectivity.
Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe’s inevitable departures were partially soothed by incoming signings – loanee Everton defenders Ty Browning and Brendan Galloway being supplemented by the nous of Aiden McGeady, who had impressed at Preston last season. Strikers James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban along with goalkeeper Jason Steele round off the transfer activity thus far.
Though such deals represent a necessary change of track for a club who have wasted millions, it is difficult not to foresee a period of mediocrity now. The squad is largely a mix of untried youngsters alongside those previously deemed not good enough for top-level football.
Pre-season showings have frequently offered up familiar defensive frailties, nowhere more evidently than Saturday’s abject 5-0 surrender to Celtic. The unhappy triumvirate of Jeremain Lens, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Koné have yet to be moved on, with their lack of desire laid embarrassingly bare by team-mate Darron Gibson’s drunken tirade after that Celtic thrashing (for which he now faces internal disciplinary action).
Friday’s opponents Derby County have enjoyed an altogether quieter few months, though the loss of Will Hughes and Tom Ince to Premier League admirers has left boss Gary Rowett with a few quandaries of his own. To build on last year’s ninth-place finish, Rowett has raided Hull City for the services of Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone. The £2 million signing of Andre Wisdom from Liverpool has further bolstered credentials.
The likelihood is the visitors will seek to frustrate their hosts, then allow an already disgruntled home crowd to act as a catalyst for yet more misery. Sunderland fans have also been robbed of a target for their ire, with Derby’s Darren Bent out until Christmas.
Bent was massively popular right up until he left, prior to which he holed himself up in a hotel in Birmingham demanding a move to Aston Villa. It was widely seen as money-grabbing: Sunderland were sixth at the time, Villa somewhat lower down. He's now universally disliked on Wearside – notably entering the field for Fulham three years ago to a backdrop of SAFC fans waving wads of cash at him.
Simon Grayson is slowly learning the magnitude of the task in front of him. How his side fare on Friday will make it that bit clearer. Chris Weatherspoon