Sunderland: Can Fletcher, Johnson and Saha shine at the Stadium of Light?
What an insane couple of days it’s been for the Black Cats. Not only did Martin O’Neill finally land his man in the shape and form of Scottish striker Steven Fletcher, but the Ulsterman also pulled off an amazing coup with the acquisition of arguably the best winger in the country Adam Johnson.
Sunderland have been linked with more than 10 players this past week alone, and one can only imagine that over the course of the next five days a dozen more will be mooted for moves.
Michael Dawson, Anderson, Danny Rose, Jermaine Jenas, Jonas Olsson, Martin Olsson, Jordan Henderson, Dimitar Berbatov, Clint Dempsey, Aidan McGeady, Peter Odemwingie, John Guidetti, Ivan Strinic, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll are just some of the names to have been linked with a move to Wearside recently.
One can only speculate how much chairman Ellis Short paid to Wolves up front, and how much of the alleged £15 million fee will rise to, but the general consensus is that Fletcher isn’t worth anything more than £8 million. Even former Scotland captain Craig Burley came out this week to criticise the excessive fee. With that being said Fletcher will surely feel a burning desire to silence his critics and punish Premier League defences.
With a track record of 12 goals in the 2011/2012 season and 10 goals in the 2010/2011 with Wolves, not forgetting eight goals with Burnley in the season prior, Fletch has proved that he can cut it in the top tier. Nonetheless one may argue that he only just reached double figures in two out of those three seasons.
A counterargument to that is that he may not have had the firepower that Sunderland currently possess, with both Burnley and Wolves getting relegated despite Fletcher’s goals.
Another benefit of Fletcher’s move to Sunderland is that he will surely be fed lots of chances; with the signing of Johnson and with dead-ball specialist Sebastian Larsson and wonderkid James McClean having tormented defences last season there will be an endless supply from the wings, and magic through the middle with Stephane Sessegnon playing in the hole behind Fletcher, and most likely Louis Saha.
The term “lack of consistency” is synonymous with the tricky winger but one can argue that a lack of consistency comes from a lack of playing time, with the England international only managing 10 league starts last season, still scoring six goals. Under O’Neill one can only assume that the North-East native will start the majority of league games, and in his favorite right-wing position with Larsson part of a midfield that includes two from Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback and Sessegnon.
Johnson comes with a hefty transfer fee so many on Wearside will be expecting instant success, which, if you’re a Sunderland fan, will know that doesn’t always happen. Hope and hype are part of the North-East tradition while patience isn’t. It may take some time for O’Neill’s new look team to gel, especially since the game against Reading was called off, and more transfers expected before next Saturday’s tricky away fixture at a revitalised Swansea.
Saha’s career has been blighted by injury and with Sunderland already bearing the brunt of Wes Brown’s jinxed knees the fans won’t be too optimistic that the veteran Frenchman will last the season. To his credit, and despite his familiarity with the treatment table, he still managed three goals in nine for Spurs, 27 in 97 for Everton and 28 in 86 for Man Utd and has a penchant for spectacular goals as well as netting multiple times in a single game.
Saha came off the bench in the opener against Arsenal and despite not training with a club pre-season he showed some nice touches, holding the ball up well as the Black Cats gained an impressive 0-0 draw. Another major plus is that he has already earned a good rapport with the players, with Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole this week singing Saha’s praises, which can only be good for the development of rookie strikers Connor Wickham, Ji-Dong Won and Ryan Noble.
Only time will tell whether Saha plays an instrumental or bit-part in Sunderland’s season.
Calling all Sunderland fans: What do you make of the signings O'Neill has completed in the past two weeks. Will Saha be a valuable addition? Can Fletcher prove he will be value for money? Can Johnson finally be given licence to terrorise defenders on a weekly basis? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.
Come back tomorrow for part two as I take a look at how Martin O'Neill is shaping his new-look Sunderland.
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