Sunderland were hit with a big blow to their squad at the start of the January transfer window as centre-forward Ellis Simms returned to his parent club.
The striker was on a loan that was initially expected to expire at the end of the season but Premier League side Everton decided to activate their option to recall him in order to bolster their own side for the second half of the campaign.
This has left the Black Cats with Ross Stewart as the only natural, senior, number nine option at the Stadium of Light and the club are yet to make a signing in that position this month.
The transfer window slams shut in a couple of weeks and Tony Mowbray and Kristjaan Speakman may look to dip into the market to source a replacement for Simms.
In the first half of the season, the on-loan forward enjoyed a terrific spell with Sunderland as he averaged a Sofascore rating of 7.03 across 14 starts in the Championship. He scored seven goals and provided two assists in that time – proving that he had the quality to consistently deliver at this level.
Simms made himself a key player for the Black Cats in the division and that is why his sudden exit from the Stadium of Light has left Mowbray with a big hole to fill.
Whilst the manager may use the transfer market to improve his options at the top end of the pitch and replace the Everton forward, the head coach could strike gold and save Speakman millions by unearthing a gem from the academy set-up to take a place in the senior side – Max Thompson.
The 20-year-old has been in fine form at youth level for Sunderland, and Burnley previously, for a number of seasons and could have what it takes to make the step up.
Journalist Josh Bunting hailed the young talent earlier this season, tweeting: “A real natural goal-scorer at 21s level going to take him a wee bit of time to get into the first team picture but certainly going the right way. Five goals in his last two games, so intelligent in the box. Clinical.”
Thompson has plundered five goals and one assist in eight outings for the Black Cats at U21 level this season and managed 17 goals and four assists in 41 appearances for the Clarets in the previous two campaigns combined.
The youngster, who can play as a central striker or out wide, has showcased himself as a prolific goalscorer in the academy and Mowbray must now unleash him in the first-team to see if he has what it takes to replace Simms in the coming weeks and months.
If Thompson can replicate his U21 form in the Championship then Sunderland could have a terrific asset on their hands and the manager will have struck gold.