Capital One Cup win provides positives for Sunderland - but the need for January changes remains (From The Northern Echo)
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Capital One Cup win provides positives for Sunderland - but the need for January changes remains
THEY are now just one tie away from Wembley, but Sunderland's priority next month will be to ensure that they are not heading to Watford next season as well. Unlike Wigan, the Black Cats do not want the joy of a cup final tempered by the pain of relegation come May.
Middlesbrough also have experience of reaching Wembley and suffering relegation in the same season, so it is hardly unheard of, but at least last night's spirited display suggests the Black Cats are nowhere near as bad as their parlous league position suggests.
True, when they entertain Norwich in a crucial relegation clash on Saturday, they will still be five points adrift at the foot of the table.
But they will have a two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final to look forward to, and will be buoyed by a thrilling comeback success against a Chelsea side that, while boasting eight changes from last weekend's win over Crystal Palace, still contained 11 internationals.
If nothing else, last night's events prove that Sunderland's spirit remains intact. Their league struggles have not broken them, and that could be crucial if they are to mount a survival campaign that would have to rank alongside anything in recent Premier League history.
Is there enough ability in the squad? Possibly not, but that is where next month's transfer window comes in.
At least on the evidence of their display against Chelsea, Lee Cattermole's return has helped to provide some much-needed protection to the back four, Emanuele Giaccherini's wing play can offer a creative spark that is all-too-often lacking, and Fabio Borini is capable of transforming the tightest of encounters from the bench. And Ki Sung-Yeung can finish superbly under pressure.
Hardly a blueprint for survival admittedly, but at least it is a start. Beyond that, failings remain apparent, most notably in the full-back positions – Chelsea's goal owed much to Cesar Azpilicueta's overlapping run on the flank – and at centre-forward, where Jozy Altidore continues to look more cumbersome than clinical.
Along with a creative midfielder to link midfield and attack, they are the areas most in need of strengthening next month, and after a series of summer failures, it is to be hoped that director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni have learned from their mistakes.
Fourteen players arrived in the summer, yet less than five months on, and while the likes of Ki and Borini can be deemed a partial success, a fair proportion have disappeared off the radar.
Cabral, Valentin Roberge and Charis Mavrias made it on the bench last night, but it is the middle of October since any of the trio started a senior game.
Modibo Diakite? Hasn't been seen since starting the final game of the Di Canio era at West Brom. David Moberg Karlsson? One start against MK Dons in the second round of the Capital One Cup in August. El-Hadji Ba? Your guess is as good as mine.
A signing policy that seemed scatter-gun in nature at the time now looks deeply flawed, and Poyet is having to turn back the clock to rely on players from the Steve Bruce era as he attempts to guide Sunderland out of trouble.
Once the transfer window reopens next month, the Black Cats' recruitment team should be prioritising the purchase of domestic players with Premier League experience. That might not be the cheapest option, but they cannot afford to assemble another new team that requires a bedding-in period.
Come the end of January, the Black Cats will have to hit the ground running. For all that success in the Capital One Cup is now a thrilling possibility, it cannot overshadow the Premier League task in hand.
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