SUNDERLAND’S striker shortage might have been laid bare in the club’s last two matches, but Tony Mowbray claims it is not guaranteed that he will be looking to recruit a new forward in the January transfer window.
The Black Cats have failed to score in back-to-back home games, recording goalless draws with Preston and Blackpool, and their barren spell has coincided with the absence of both Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms.
Alex Neil repeatedly warned of the risk of a lack of attacking options during the summer, with Sunderland’s failure to bring in a new forward in the final week of the transfer window one of the factors that persuaded the Scotsman to swap the Stadium of Light for Stoke City last month.
Mowbray has ruled out raiding the free-agent market in order to bolster his resources in the final third, but it had been assumed the Black Cats boss would be pushing for the acquisition of a new attacker in January.
Interestingly, though, that will not necessarily be the case, with Mowbray wary of bringing in a third centre-forward if he sees himself playing with just one in his starting side in the second half of the season.
“Do I think we absolutely have to bring in another striker in January? I genuinely don’t sit here and think so,” said Mowbray, who will take his side to Swansea City at the weekend. “I think the squad’s alright.
“Let’s not bring another striker in just for the sake of it, then when everybody’s fit, you’ve got three strikers, you’re playing 4-3-3 with one down the middle because you’re two wingers are brilliant and you want to keep them playing, and then you’ve got two strikers moaning in the background, getting annoyed because they’re not playing.
“If you play with one striker, why would you have three that all expect to play? It’s highlighted now because we’ve lost two of our strikers and, when we came, we were playing with two strikers up top and they’re both injured now.
“We started off playing 3-5-2, and the two at the top end are no longer there. We’re playing with two wingers at the moment, and have decided to try to flood the box with attacking-midfield players.
“Somewhere along the line, do we need a centre-forward and might we play 4-3-3 or go back to 3-5-2? Possibly. But as a football coach, I think you’ve got to look at the players you’ve got and work on the system you’re going to play, mindful of the opposition’s system as well. You can’t worry too much about, ‘Should it be one striker or two’.”
Given his comments on Amad Diallo over the course of the last week or so, Mowbray clearly feels he can mould the Manchester United loanee into a central striker provided he becomes more ruthless and clinical in and around the 18-yard box.
That would give him Diallo, Stewart and Simms to select from once the latter duo return to full fitness, and the Sunderland boss is also mindful of not blocking the route to the first team for the young centre-forwards currently playing in the Black Cats’ academy sides.
Max Thompson has been leading the line for the Under-23s this season, with Harry Gardiner also progressing through the ranks.
“The club will decide where everybody is, and it’s a lot bigger picture than just simply saying, ‘Oh, bring another striker in’,” said Mowbray. “What’s the contractual situation of the players that are here? What does the flow chart look like of where all the strikers in the club are?
“Do we have one coming up from the Under-18s or Under-21s where we think, ‘He’s going to be in the team next year’? You have to look at depth charts in football clubs and see what’s coming underneath as well.
“You’ve got to look at the flexible players who could play higher up the pitch or who might be playing wide at the moment, but who could play centrally.
“If you think there’s a potential hole there, then yes, you should be looking to strengthen those areas. But I don’t think it’s as simple as, ‘Oh, just go and buy another striker’.”