A WINGER at full-back. Two-thirds of the central midfield on borrowed time. A centre-half hawked as a makeweight throughout the summer.
Sunderland’s squad has been stretched so thin it is impossible to overlook these gaping holes.
It will be a similar story at Hartlepool United tonight, as Gus Poyet tries to give those first-teamers who are in his plans as many minutes as possible.
Undoubtedly, Sunderland need to add quality to their ranks after last season’s toil. But quantity is just as big an issue.
Sunderland are at least half-a-dozen players down on where the squad needs to be come August 31 after the departure of 12 players at the end of last season through expired contracts or loan deals, plus the impending exit of Nacho Scocco.
Having only one recognised full-back in the first-team squad is just the most obvious example of the holes in Poyet’s ranks.
Supporters have been twitchy over the size of Sunderland’s squad for the last couple of weeks, but this is where Lee Congerton, in the stands at Brunton Park last night, and his recruitment team really earn their corn.
Poyet was clearly putting the ball in the sporting director’s court with his post-match comments when asked about Sunderland’s transfer business.
The incomings don’t necessarily all need to be in place over the coming three-and-a-half weeks prior to the opening day trip to West Brom. But surely three or four fresh faces need to have arrived by then.
Perhaps the pursuit of Fabio Borini is delaying all other deals. There has to be a suspicion that Sunderland will wait and see if they are successful with the Italian and then see how much is left in the transfer kitty.
But while pre-season is all about minutes on the pitch, there is also a need to form relationships on the field and gel with the new players.
There was little opportunity to do that at Carlisle last night, with only six of the starting XI realistically being able to say they will be at the forefront of Poyet’s plans next season.
It showed, with the raft of Under-21s introduced just after the hour mark looking far more lively, following the heavy-legged display of their first-team cousins, albeit not helped by a heavy training session yesterday morning.
The trio of Alfred N’Diaye, Cabral and Modibo Diakite – before he went straight down the tunnel with an injury just before the half-hour mark – all did little to force their way back into Poyet’s plans.
N’Diaye, in particular, was careless in possession and was knocked off the ball a couple of times.
The one player with a question of mark over his future who did show something was David Moberg Karlsson, who linked up well with makeshift full-back Charis Mavrias down the right.
Carlisle were the more dangerous side during the opening 45 minutes and beyond, and Sunderland were indebted to Vito Mannone for several smart stops.
Mannone produced an excellent parry to keep out Billy Paynter’s diving header after the ex-Leeds striker had completely escaped the attentions of Diakite.
The Italian stopper again showed good reflexes before the halfway point of the first half when he spread himself to block Paynter’s header from David Symington’s knock-down.
But despite Carlisle enjoying the better of the play, Sunderland still managed to create the best three efforts of the first half.
Wes Brown cushioned Jordi Gomez’s corner goalwards only for Danny Grainger to clear off the line.
N’Diaye then collected a blatant handball from Moberg Karlsson just inside the Carlisle half and sent Connor Wickham through on goal with a well-weighted outside of the right boot pass.
But Wickham’s first touch was awful and it allowed Carlisle keeper Mark Gillespie the chance to race out of his goal and block the England Under-21 striker’s follow-up shot.
Just before the interval, Billy Jones surged forward from left-back, played a neat one-two with Wickham and hit a shot which was half-saved by Gillespie before Grainger again cleared off the line.
It would have been cruel on Carlisle to fall behind so close to half-time though and the Cumbrians almost nudged their noses in front just after the restart.
Lively ex-Liverpool winger David Amoo got to the left-hand by-line and pulled the ball back low into the path of Danny Potts on the edge of the area whose drive was again well kept out by Mannone.
Poyet had spent several minutes at half-time talking with the U21 squad in a huddle and he gave them their chance just after the hour.
Part of that idea was for Carlisle boss and ex-Sunderland midfielder Graham Kavanagh to have a close look at these players to see if any would be suitable for a loan move, with both clubs looking to continue the working relationship which saw keeper Jordan Pickford move to Brunton Park on loan last season.
Sunderland’s rookies were on the back-foot initially with Tom Robson clearing off the line from Amoo after keeper Joel Dixon had flapped at a cross.
But the Black Cats grabbed the only goal of the game in the 71st minute when Mikael Mandron played a neat one-two with George Honeyman and fired the ball clinically into the far corner.
Five minutes later, it was almost two when Lynden Gooch played a lovely through-ball for Carl Lawson who saw his attempted chip blocked well by Gillespie.
Watching those youngsters warm-down on the field afterwards, it was impossible to ignore the sense of excitement amongst them.
Seeing kids looking to stake a claim is all well and good, and shows Poyet is not blind to the importance of developing Sunderland’s own talent.
But it is the new blood, not the young blood, which Sunderland really need.
CARLISLE: Gillespie, Archibald-Henville (Meppen-Walter 58), O’Hanlon (Thirlwell 63), Grainger, Symington, Potts, Sweeney (Dempsey 80), Brough, Amoo (Rigg 80), Paynter, Kearns (Gillies 58). Sub not used: Hanford.
SUNDERLAND: Mannone (Dixon 60), Mavrias (Cartwright 60), Diakite (McNamee 28), Brown (Beadling 60), Jones (Robson 60), Cabral (Agnew 60), Moberg-Karlsson (Gooch 53), Gomez (Honeyman 60) , N’Diaye (Smith 60), Giaccherini (Lawson 60), Wickham (sub Mandron 60).
Ref: S. Duncan. Attendance: 3,616.