Sunderland Echo - - Front page - PHIL SMITH

The glo­ri­ous scenes in the swirling sleet of Bur­ton pro­vided a tem­po­rary es­cape from what has so far been an­other mis­er­able sea­son.

A fa­mil­iar sec­ond half im­plo­sion on Satur­day was a bru­tal re­al­ity check.

The hope re­mains that when Chris Cole­man’s con­tract ex­pires in 2020, he has re­built Sun­der­land’s foot­ball op­er­a­tion, over­hauled the squad to give it a pacy and youth­ful glow, as well as mak­ing the Black Cats a com­pet­i­tive team in the top tiers of the English leagues.

It will take out­stand­ing man­age­ment to achieve even a third of that.

For now, it is quite sim­ply a case of sur­viv­ing.

Much talk per­sists of ‘deeper prob­lems’ and Si­mon Grayson be­came the lat­est man­ager to say as much dur­ing a re­cent ap­pear­ance on the EFL Mat­ters pod­cast.

He also, how­ever, hinted at a sim­pler and more ac­cu­rate ex­pla­na­tion of Sun­der­land’s woes.

The sum­mer busi­ness shifted some of the un­der per­form­ing play­ers from the books, but the wages earned by some meant that the club were not able to go far enough.

The squad re­mains un­bal­anced, with too many in­jury prone play­ers and nowhere near enough pace or tech­ni­cal abil­ity.

David Moyes got few things right dur­ing his time in charge, but he was ab­so­lutely cor­rect to as­sert that Sun­der­land needed a more ro­bust squad this sea­son. That plan wasn’t ex­e­cuted.

The in­com­ing trans­fer busi­ness done for the most part com­pounded, rather than solved, that prob­lem.

Cole­man came into this job fully aware that the money would not be avail­able in Jan­uary to make sig­nif­i­cant amend­ments.

He was fully aware, too, that it would not be any eas­ier to off load the higher earn­ers in Jan­uary than it was last sum­mer.

The short-term brief was al­ways go­ing to be to dip into his con­tacts book for loans and then at­tempt to squeeze what­ever he can out of the cur­rent co­hort.

Noth­ing in his first three games has changed that, the good or the bad.

Next sum­mer, money will still be tight, with para­chute pay­ments drop­ping and no prize as­sets like Jor­dan Pick­ford to sell in or­der to soften the blow.

Cole­man has been as­sured, how­ever, that there will be more wrig­gle room and it is at that point that he will hope to make more sig­nif­i­cant changes.

There will be some in­com­ing trans­fer money, with Fabio Borini and Jere­main Lens mak­ing their loan switches per­ma­nent, while a full sea­son of first team foot­ball in Ligue 1 should mean the Black Cats can shift Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilo­bodji per­ma­nently.

They will hope for more per­ma­nent out­go­ings, while Cole­man will have a blank can­vas in terms of loans.

Cru­cially, a num­ber of first team play­ers will see their con­tracts ex­pire, in­clud­ing John O’Shea, Marc Wil­son, Billy Jones and Darron Gibson. Cole­man may de­cide be­tween now and then to keep some of those play­ers on, but it could pro­vide an ideal op­por­tu­nity to change the pro­file of the squad play­ers per­haps more suited to his long-term vi­sion for the first team.

There are no guar­an­tees and given Sun­der­land’s woe­ful re­cruit­ment record of late, many will be scep­ti­cal that Cole­man will be given the back­ing he needs.

That, how­ever, is some way down the line.

For now, it as all about sur­vival and stop­ping the slide.

John O’Shea.

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