HAVING spent most of last season bemoaning the lack of attacking options within his squad, it says much that while Sunderland signed four new forwards in the summer, Tony Mowbray opted to start without all of them when his side played at Stoke City last weekend.

True, there were mitigating factors to help explain the absence of all four strikers. Mason Burstow only returned from international duty with England Under-20s on the eve of the game, while Nazariy Rusyn had also spent most of the previous fortnight away from Wearside with Ukraine. Eliezer Mayenda is only just returning from a hamstring injury sustained during his first training session with Sunderland, and is being eased back into action with the Under-21s, while Luis Hemir continues to build up his physical fitness levels after his summer move from Portugal.

Nevertheless, the fact still remains that we are almost in November now, and the four summer attacking signings have still not scored a single goal. No matter what the mitigation, that is a stark and somewhat depressing statistic.

“Hopefully, we can start to see them kick on a bit now,” said Mowbray, ahead of this evening’s game at Leicester City when Burstow is expected to return to the starting side. “The reality, in my mind, is that they’ve all got different issues we’re trying to deal with, and they’re probably all still a bit away from really sticking their hand up and making it impossible for me to leave them out of the side.”

Burstow has had the most involvement so far, starting the previous six league games before Saturday’s setback at the bet365 Stadium. The 20-year-old has shown glimpses of promise so far, most notably when he helped set up two of Sunderland’s three goals in their win at Sheffield Wednesday, but Mowbray is still trying to teach him how to lead the line.

“Mason’s the one we’ve gone to so far, really, because he’s athletic, he can run and he closes people down well,” said the Sunderland boss. “I think he’s still a boy though, and he has to learn about double movements in the box and how to find space and make clever runs in behind. I think he’s trying to take all that on board, but he’s still learning. We show him a lot of video stuff back, and he looks you in the eye and takes it in.”


Hemir has the potential to be more of an old-fashioned number nine than Burstow, but left Portugal having only really played for Benfica’s B team. As a result, he lacks the physicality needed to succeed in the Championship.

“Hemir is different,” continued Mowbray. “We’ve talked a lot about Hemir in relation to the physical aspect of the game. So much of modern-day football is about what happens when you don’t have the ball – how you press and close teams down.

“I think because of the support base and who we are here at Sunderland, we need to play on the front foot and we need to get our fans wrapped up in the game. We need to be aggressive, and at this moment, Hemir needs to keep developing his aerobic capacity to be able to help our team.”

Rusyn’s physical attributes are not in question, but having moved from Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk without being able to speak a work of English, the 24-year-old freely admits he has struggled to settle on Wearside.

“With Rusyn, he’s not really a young boy, but he’s come from Ukraine and, in my mind, he’s still a little bit in the headlights,” said Mowbray. “He still doesn’t really know where he is almost. He’s finding it difficult, but you can see he’s got talent and he’s sharp and clever with the ball. At some stage, I’ll just throw him in, but ideally you don’t really want to be just throwing him in, you want him to learn how we play and what we do. It’s a difficult scenario.”

Perhaps Mayenda will end up being the answer to Sunderland’s goalscoring dilemma. The 18-year-old joined the Black Cats from Sochaux in the summer and made his first appearance for the club’s Under-21s in a training-ground game against Hibernian yesterday.

“We’ve been looking forward to his first game for the Under-21s because he’s exciting in training,” said Mowbray. “I’ve said that once or twice. He needs to stay fit now and play some games.

“Hopefully, he can play again on Friday against Spurs (for the Under-21s) and then he might be in the mix for sitting on the bench. He’s different to the players we’ve got. He’s left-footed, dynamic and can beat a man with speed and power. He looks exciting, but we need him to stay fit and then we can give him a chance properly.”

Sunderland (probable, 4-2-3-1): Patterson; Hume, O'Nien, Ballard, Huggins; Neil, Ekwah; Ba, Bellingham, Clarke; Burstow.