Five key summer questions for Sunderland

Striker Nicklas Bendtner is currently on loan from Arsenal

Striker Nicklas Bendtner is currently on loan from Arsenal

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

Should he try to sign Nicklas Bendtner permanently?

As things stand, Bendtner is due to play his final game for Sunderland when Manchester United visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

The Arsenal loanee has been sporadically successful since leaving the Emirates Stadium last August, but does his form justify the hefty outlay that would be required to sign him on a permanent basis?

On the plus side, Bendtner has settled on Wearside and Sunderland's midfielders have gradually learned how to bring the best out of a striker that can be a real handful on his day.

But a return of seven goals from 30 appearances is hardly impressive, and O'Neill might well extract better value elsewhere for the £6m and £60,000-a-week it would take to secure Bendtner.

If he opts to pursue the Dane, the majority of his summer transfer budget will disappear. For that reason alone, a deal appears unlikely.

How can he add more creativity to his side?

The Northern Echo: Junior Hoilett
Blackburn Rovers' Junior Hoilett is a target

A lack of goals has been Sunderland's main problem all season, and while the situation improved in the early days of O'Neill's reign, the last few weeks have seen the Black Cats revert to type.

Finding someone to stick the ball in the back of the net is clearly an issue, and whatever happens with Bendtner, O'Neill will be keen to sign at least one new centre-forward this summer.

He could be looking for two if he decides to cut his losses on Connor Wickham, a player who has stagnated this season despite costing £8.1m when he arrived from Ipswich.

A lack of attacking depth is only half of the problem, however, and O'Neill will be equally determined to add some much-needed creativity to his side's midfield.

Blackburn winger Junior Hoilett is a leading target, although Sunderland will face intense competition for one of the most highly-rated youngsters in the country. Also expect O'Neill to be on the look-out for a ball-playing central midfielder.

What should he do with Craig Gordon?

The Northern Echo: FREE AGENT: Craig Gordon
Craig Gordon's contract expires this summer

Gordon's contract is due to expire this summer, and O'Neill must decide whether to offer the Scotland international a new deal at the Stadium of Light.

For most of the season, that looked unlikely, with Gordon struggling to overcome the long-standing knee injury that has restricted him to just a handful of appearances in the last two seasons.

The £9m man was finally given an opportunity to impress in last month's 2-2 draw with Bolton, and he seized his chance to remind his manager why he became the most expensive goalkeeper in British football history when Roy Keane signed him from Hearts.

However, O'Neill will struggle to justify the retention of three highly-paid goalkeepers on the wage bill, and through no fault of his own, Gordon will surely be the odd man out.

Given his status as a free agent, there should not be a shortage of admirers, and it is hard to see him returning to Sunderland for the start of pre-season training.

What other positions need strengthening?

The Northern Echo: Jack Colback
Colback and Richardson have played at left-back

While there is not a need for wholesale surgery this summer, there are other key areas of the squad that O'Neill will be keen to address.

Most notably, he is known to be desperate to sign a natural left-back, having been forced to make do and mend for the majority of the campaign.

Jack Colback, who has played in the position on a number of occasions, is a midfielder, while Kieran Richardson is perhaps a more valuable asset when he is pushed further up the flank.

Wayne Bridge will not be retained once his loan spell expires, so O'Neill will be in the market for a left-footed defender. Erik Pieters has been linked with both Sunderland and Newcastle, but the latter's interest is understood to be at a more advanced stage.

Numerically, Sunderland are reasonably well-blessed with centre-halves, but with question marks over the future of Titus Bramble, and Sotirios Kyrgiakos set to depart, O'Neill could also look to strengthen in that area.

How many players would he ideally like to leave?

The Northern Echo: LOAN RANGER: Asamoah Gyan
Striker Asamoah Gyan is likely to leave in the summer

Cristian Riveros became the first player to leave Sunderland this summer when he completed a permanent switch to Turkish side Kayserispor last week, but O'Neill will be hoping the Paraguayan midfielder is not the last.

Of the players currently on loan from the Stadium of Light, Asamoah Gyan is expected to complete a full-time switch to the Middle East, while O'Neill will be hoping West Ham win promotion and opt to sign George McCartney.

Trevor Carson and Oumare Tounkara will be released as free agents, but the likes of Adam Reed, Louis Laing and Billy Knott would also be allowed to leave after spending the majority of the current campaign away from Wearside.

Beyond that, much will depend on whether Sunderland receive acceptable offers for any of their more valued players.

Ji Dong-won has been a fringe player for most of the campaign, while Ahmed Elmohamady has also been a peripheral presence under O'Neill.

Comments (2)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

8:17am Wed 9 May 12

Stu York says...

forwards in yak and flecther big holding forward in yak and fletcher to pick up the rest both scored already over 10 goals in the premiership exactly what o'neil is looking for.
forwards in yak and flecther big holding forward in yak and fletcher to pick up the rest both scored already over 10 goals in the premiership exactly what o'neil is looking for. Stu York
  • Score: 0

2:07pm Thu 10 May 12

Bauls77 says...

Why let talented prospects leave like Louis Laing and Billy Knott? We don't have limitless funds available and judging how successful both players have been and letting the likes of bramble and that useless greek go in the summer it may be time to give them some pre season games and push them on not get rid!!
Why let talented prospects leave like Louis Laing and Billy Knott? We don't have limitless funds available and judging how successful both players have been and letting the likes of bramble and that useless greek go in the summer it may be time to give them some pre season games and push them on not get rid!! Bauls77
  • Score: 0

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree