AFTER suffering their first defeat in six matches when they lost at Coventry City last weekend, Sunderland head into the final ten matches looking to overhaul the four-point gap that currently separates them from the automatic-promotion positions.

Having identified his side’s leaky defence as a key barrier to promotion when he was appointed as Jack Ross’ successor, Phil Parkinson has successfully tightened things up at the back. However, attention has now shifted to the other end of the field, where the Black Cats’ limited goalscoring threat is increasingly emerging as their key concern.

Aside from a couple of half-chances from set-pieces, Sunderland did not really threaten Coventry’s goal at St Andrew’s and only one side in the current top ten has scored fewer than their 46 league goals.

Parkinson was understandably reluctant to change his side when they were on a winning run, and Sunday’s game marked Charlie Wyke’s 16th successive appearance as the central striker. Should Wyke continue to keep his place at the head of the Black Cats’ attack, or is it time for a change? Assuming Parkinson opts to stick with the same formation, who should lead the line?


The Northern Echo:

He might be the man currently in possession of the starting spot, but Wyke has managed just five goals in 26 league appearances this season. Compare that to Peterborough’s Ivan Toney (23 goals from 31 games), Fleetwood’s Paddy Madden (15 from 33), Rotherham’s Freddie Ladapo (14 from 30) and Coventry’s Matt Godden (13 from 25), and it is easy to see why it can be argued that a lack of a natural goalscorer is hampering Sunderland’s promotion hopes.

Parkinson’s counter-argument is that Wyke offers so much more than merely his goals tally. He holds the ball up with his back to goal, pulls opposition defenders out of position and sets the tone for Sunderland’s high press. With Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch looking to break into the box from their starting position as attacking midfielders, it can be argued the Black Cats need a physically-imposing pivot at the heart of their forward line. But should Wyke continue to be an automatic pick if he is not scoring?


The Northern Echo:

Lafferty is the nearest thing Sunderland have to a like-for-like replacement for Wyke, and when he has come onto the field as a substitute in eight of the last nine matches, the January signing has looked reasonably effective. He has spent most of his career in a target-man role and is comfortable challenging for the ball in the air, so he should be able to mimic most of what Wyke has been doing well in the last few months.

The two question marks hanging over him are his recent goalscoring record and fitness levels. Prior to joining Sunderland, Lafferty scored one goal in nine appearances for Sarpsborg in the Norwegian Tippeligaen, and last season he managed four goals in 21 SPL outings for Rangers. If Parkinson was to swap Wyke for Lafferty, would he merely be switching one target-man who does not score many goals for another?


The Northern Echo:

Grigg offers something different to either Wyke or Lafferty, although on the evidence of his time in a Sunderland shirt, it would be hard to argue that the Northern Irishman is any more likely to guarantee goals than his team-mates. Grigg has scored five goals in 37 league appearances for the Black Cats, although it should be pointed out that most of those outings came last season, when Ross’ side were adopting a largely conservative approach.

With Parkinson encouraging his wing-backs to push on, Sunderland now get more balls into the box and tend to play higher up the field, changes that should play to Grigg’s strengths. Parkinson clearly thinks the 28-year-old is capable of scoring in League One, hence his refusal to loan him to a promotion rival in January, but the fact he has not started him since December’s defeat at Gillingham speaks volumes.


If Parkinson wanted to pull a wild card from his attacking pack, he could select Semenyo as his central striker. The Bristol City loanee looks more suited to a wide-attacking role, and when he come on as a substitute, that tends to be where he has been stationed. However, he has played as a centre-forward for his parent club and would offer something different.

Semenyo is the fastest and most athletic of Sunderland’s forwards, and his presence in the side would enable the Black Cats’ midfielders to play balls beyond an opposition defence, something they have not really been able to do with Wyke in the team. Selecting Semenyo from the start might be a stretch, but there is an argument that Parkinson should be more creative when he uses him from the bench.