Why Sunderland want to gamble on Jerome Sinclair and what happens next in striker hunt
Stewart Donald has been the first to admit that when it comes to transfers, he is far less relaxed than Jack Ross.
Both are aware, nevertheless, that Sunderland’s recruitment drive has reached crunch point.
The opening League One game against Charlton Athletic is just over a week away, and the window will shut soon afterward.
On talkSPORT this week, Donald said that Sunderland would have to ‘force it’.
They are keen on at least one more centre-back and a central midfielder, with a move for Reading’s George Evans seemingly all but off.
A winger to replace Callum McManaman would be welcome, if not essential.
The most pressing need, however, is up front.
It was a tale of two boxes last season as Sunderland collapsed on the back of goalkeeping woes and a desperate shortage of firepower at the other end.
Ross looks to have moved well to solve the former issue, signing ex-Hearts man Jon McLaughlin on a free in what looks to be a considerable coup.
So far, the former Burton Albion keeper has shown good reflexes and most importantly, a steadying command of his penalty area.
At the other end of the pitch, it has been far slower going, with deals for the likes of Florian Kamberi and Mo Eisa falling short.
With time ticking by, the club yesterday moved to seal a loan deal for Watford’s Jerome Sinclair.
The 21-year-old offers some much need depth and variety up front.
On the face of it, Sinclair represents something of a gamble for Sunderland.
He is best known for incurring the wrath of Jurgen Klopp when opting to leave Liverpool, where he was highly-rated, for Watford.
He also came to the attention of the wider footballing world as part of an infamous deadline-day documentary, which detailed the breakdown of a potential loan move to Sheffield United.
Sinclair called that ‘one-sided’ and added that he was happy to stay at Vicarage Road.
Regardless, it is clear that he remains unproven at senior level, having failed to pin down a regular starting place either at Watford or during a short loan spell at Birmingham City in 2017.
His talent, however, cannot be questioned and boss Jack Ross believes he will add a different dimension to Sunderland’s attack.
Sinclair is at a stage where he needs regular football and dropping down to League One to get it serves good notice of his intent to get his career truly up and running.
The Black Cats will surely only benefit from that determination.
Prior to Sinclair’s arrival, Ross only had teenager Josh Maja in his striking ranks.
Fellow forward Andrew Nelson is a talented player who Ross admires, but, at this stage, a second loan move might be the best option, following his time at Falkirk last season.
Maja is a player who Ross ideally sees as playing off a main striker.
His finishing is instinctively good, as is his movement, but, at 19, he is perhaps not quite ready to lead the line and certainly not for every game of what is a punishing schedule.
Pace is also not his strongest asset, preferring to receive the ball into feet than chasing it over the top.
It is here where Sinclair has been identified as a player who can make a significant difference. The 21-year-old’s most natural position is an inside forward, but he can also play through the middle if required.
Either way, he will add raw pace to the interchangeable front three which Ross has so far operated with in pre-season.
Against St Mirren last weekend, Maja, Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch were given the licence to rotate and stretch the defence.
Playing that way, Sinclair should slot in comfortably and could provide an outlet over the top and into the channels for the passing of Dylan McGeouch and others.
While Sinclair has not played much football in recent times, he has at least played an active part in Watford’s pre-season, getting minutes and a goal against Fortuna Dusseldorf.
That could help him get started quickly at Sunderland.
The deal for Sinclair strengthens the options for manager Jack Ross, but it is clear that a proven striker is also needed.
Sinclair is certainly not intended to be the last attacking addition and Sunderland would be underpowered if he were.
The Black Cats have funds for an experienced campaigner up top, but their targets are part of a complex transfer chain.
That delay may be one of the reasons why the have pushed the button now on Sinclair, giving Ross time to intergrate at least one forward before that opening game against Charlton Athletic on August 4.
Ex-Carlisle frontman Charlie Wyke is admired, but League One rivals Bradford City seem increasingly keen to keep him as they struggle to find a replacement.
It is a similar situation at Sheffield United, where Derby County’s move to hijack a deal for former Black Cat Martyn Waghorn is likely to keep Billy Sharp in Chris Wilder’s plans for Bramall Lane.
They are two of myriad targets in the ‘jigsaw’ that Donald has spoken of.
The Black Cats will remain determined to make their mark, and, as well as proven goals, Ross is likely to want a slightly different type of striker.
The obvious gap in his options at the moment is someone capable of leading the line and bringing others into play with their back to goal.
While relaxed about the impasse following the six-goal romp against St Mirren at the weekend, the Sunderland boss admitted that he would like to be flexible with his options this season.
“I didn’t have one of them [orthodox striker] last year either and that dictates how you play as well at times,” he said.
“You need to be flexible and be able to adapt.
“When we look to bring players in, it’s more because we need to be able to adapt rather than being a slight on the ones we’ve got because they are good and they’re proving we’re good.
“But there will be times when teams combat what you do and you need to find other ways. There will be times when the game goes away from you through misfortune or whatever it might be.
“We need to have that flexibility, but I’ve been used to it for a while. I’ve not had one (targetman) for a long time.”
A further loan is not out of the question, either.
As well as Sinclair, the Black Cats have held talks regarding a move for at least one Premier League youngster.
While the Watford man jumped to the top of the list, Ross could return to the loan market should his other moves fail to come off.
In an ideal world, he would want to more to arrive after 21-year-old Sinclair.
Sinclair’s arrival is positive step forward, but there is much work still to be done, both up front and elsewhere.