Sunderland manager Lee Johnson has all but ruled out bringing in free agents between now and the January transfer window, saying he’s ‘happy’ with his current squad at the Stadium of Light whilst speaking to Chronicle Live.
The Black Cats recruited a total of nine players during the summer, something they had to do after seeing first-teamers including Charlie Wyke, Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and others all leave Wearside on the expiration of their contracts in the summer.
This freshening up of the squad was arguably necessary after going on a poor run at the latter stages of the 2020/21 campaign despite still finishing fourth, before being denied the chance to return to the Championship after losing in the play-off semi-finals against Michael Appleton’s Lincoln City.
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With numerous recruits arriving after an initially slow start to the summer, the benefit of financial stability and the likes of Aiden McGeady and Luke O’Nien signing new contracts at the club, the Black Cats will be hopeful of gaining promotion to the second tier at the fourth time of asking, although it seems there will be no more additions before January to help them on this quest.
Speaking about the potential of dipping into the free-agent market before January, Sunderland manager Lee Johnson said: “I don’t see that [signing free agents] as something we’re looking at.
“Really our recruitment strategy is looking at January now, although obviously you can get exceptional circumstances [where Sunderland would sign a free agent].
“But how could we sign a right-back while we’ve got Huggins, O’Nien who can play there, Winchester who can play there, Gooch who can play there?
“It’s different if you are signing someone on a permanent deal, a three or four-year mindset, but we have doubled up in most positions depending on where you put Winnie [Winchester].
“I’m happy, and more than players coming in all the time – which you don’t really want – it’s about the vibe of the group and the sharpness of the training.
“You can only use 14 players on a matchday, you want them all sharp, and that’s what we are looking for.”
Sunderland currently sit in first place after their narrow 2-1 win at home to Accrington Stanley at the weekend – and will be hoping to remain injury-free throughout their 46-game season, with the Carabao Cup still on the agenda after their second-round win against Blackpool and the EFL Trophy to contend with.
Depth, depth, depth, depth – it’s so important in the third and fourth tiers of English football. The schedule for Championship teams is bad enough, even without the EFL Trophy that the likes of Sunderland, Wigan Athletic and other challengers face in their aim for promotion.
Fair play to Sunderland’s recruitment team, they have strengthened numerous positions over the past couple of months and because of this, there are very few holes you could pick out in this team.
Their wing position after loaning out Jack Diamond may need to be taken care of in January because that’s the position that’s looking light right now, perhaps along with a striker to support Ross Stewart and Nathan Broadhead up top.
Do the duo have enough goals between them to take the Black Cats to the second tier? That remains to be seen – but again – this is something they could probably address in January if both can step up to the plate.
You also have to appreciate Lee Johnson’s words about the importance of having a tight-knit squad. Bringing too many players in could rock the boat and cause unhappiness to those who are on the fringes of the Sunderland squad, so getting that balance is vital and judging by their summer recruitment, they seem to have got it just right.