MICHAEL Beale believes Sunderland could do with a bit of "grey hair" in the middle of the park and thinks the addition of a specialist defensive midfielder could bring the very best out of Dan Neil, Jobe Bellingham and Pierre Ekwah in the second half of the season.

While Beale has huge faith in the talented young trio, he says they're all similar in the way they want to play.

With Corry Evans - Sunderland's only natural holding midfielder - having spent the last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury, Neil and Ekwah have had to adapt their game and, at various stages, have had to sit deeper and be more defensively disciplined than they'd perhaps like.

Beale says it's credit to the pair that they've been able to do that but admits the Black Cats are lacking "a dedicated number six".

Sunderland were boosted by the return to the bench of Jay Matete at Ipswich after his long spell out of action, but Beale would still ideally like to bring in a midfielder before the end of the January window.

"Look, the three that we've got are very versatile, they're all can play as an eight that runs on and that would probably be Jobe's best position as well," said Beale.

"The three of them are finding a way to perform and do very well, when you look at where we are in the league and some of the teams that we have beaten.

"We can point to some disappointing days so far this season but there have been really positive days as well.

"Do I think they could do with a dedicated number six in behind them, would it help their skillset? Yeah. But at this moment in time, you're seeing Dan and Pierre adapt their game and that is for sure going to help them in the long run as well.

"Just a little bit of grey hair in terms of Corry would help wouldn't it, just that experience and talking on the pitch. Again, we can find a solution within the building but the nature of it is that when the window is open, we'll look."


There'll be no new additions to the squad - either signings or players returning from injury - for Friday's visit of Hull City and Beale is sweating over the fitness of Aji Alese after a scare in training on Wednesday.

"No one is back for Friday's game. Aji has come out of the session today with a slight knock, which I'll need to assess because I've come straight from training into this press conference," said the head coach.

"Aji has done well since coming back into the team so let's hope that's not an issue."

Sunderland are looking to bounce back from their Ipswich disappointment on Friday night, with another home game against Stoke following.

Beale said: "The focus now is on these two home games. Three out of the last four away has not been kind.

"Now, we have two really big games at home and we know Hull well. We put in an excellent performance at their place (on Boxing Day).

"In the 19 games coming if I say every game is must win it creates a mini-crisis. Every game at this football club the fans say it's must win. I support that and the players do as well. Let's just play the 90 minutes in front of us. The next game is always the most important.

"It's another game on Sky and a chance for us to showcase ourselves and hopefully get a positive result to put everyone else under pressure on Saturday in their fixtures."