It’s not often you get to preach about the positives at Sunderland. After all, they’ve been few and far between over the last couple of years.
However, with the club in the playoff places and in the Papa John’s Trophy final, things are looking rosier under the guidance of Lee Johnson, Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.
Although there are more encouraging signs behind the scenes, Sunderland still have a tactical problem on the field of play.
They have turned their form around in recent weeks and are now just seven points behind Lincoln who sit in second place. Injuries have wreaked havoc with the squad but Johnson has still managed to engineer encouraging results.
That being said, their left-back area is still a concern. Denver Hume has been out injured since early December and they’ve arguably not recovered in that third of the pitch since.
Callum McFadzean is struggling and has been rather inconsistent of late. He gave away a penalty against Wimbledon and was then caught napping and out of position for both goals in the defeat to Plymouth.
Jake Vokins has hardly typified consistency either. After playing against Arsenal just a matter of days before he arrived in the north-east, he looked like an attractive loan acquisition. However, he’s been ridiculed.
His debut was described as one of the worst Roker Report have seen from a Sunderland player and he lacked assurance once more against Shrewsbury and Burton. He failed to track his man in the defeat to Shrewsbury, allowing a simple tap in at the back post and then against the Brewers, he misplaced a succession of passes.
Sunderland’s main aims in the January window were adding players capable of stretching the play but also, finding a left-back.
Johnson recognised there was a problem there with Hume injured but despite the club’s best efforts, it has arguably been a failed ordeal. Vokins has been poor and considering some of the reported options they had, maybe they should have looked elsewhere.
One of the most notable names touted was 18-year-old Hibernian full-back Josh Doig. He’s been described as having a “brilliant” season by former Mackems boss Jack Ross in Scotland and could have cost the club just £1m.
Of course, that’s a fairly sizable fee for a side in League One but his qualities and potential are radiant. Also linked with Leeds United and Manchester City in January, Doig is a rampant wing-back, capable of striding forward and impacting play in the final third.
The statistics point to a talented player, especially given his age. Thus, Speakman perhaps should have pursued this deal instead. Of course, Vokins could still come good but the early signs are hardly positive.