NUFC and SAFC still light on strikers after losing stars

IT is 51 weeks since the first big transfer of 2011.

Andy Carroll

IT is 51 weeks since the first big transfer of 2011. Not only do Sunderland still need a new centre-forward after Darren Bent’s shock departure, Newcastle United do too.

January 2011 was not a great month for the North East. More than £50m-worth of strikers headed south without being replaced. Despite a summer window to belatedly spend their loot, the Magpies and the Black Cats kick off the new year down a striker.

Of all the positions to be caught short, it is the most painful. Goalscorers win football matches.

Not only did Newcastle lose Andy Carroll on January deadline day, but their captain and top-scorer Kevin Nolan departed during the next window.

Yet it is Sunderland who have suffered the most.

Signed as a free agent once the window was shut, Shefki Kuqi was never going to be anything other than a sub-standard replacement for Carroll.

Hopes were not high either for summer arrival Demba Ba thanks to suspicions about the knees which scared Stoke City off this time last year.

It was not just the fans who did not see him as the final piece in the attacking jigsaw. The Magpies handed Ba the No.19 shirt and continued the search for a worthy No.9. They could not strike a deal.

Ba’s 15 goals have been a sticking plaster over the business end of Newcastle’s squad. Leon Best started last year and this season brilliantly, but his tally of three goals for the campaign is starting to look meagre.

Shola Ameobi bullied Rio Ferdinand into submission seven days ago, but could not hit a barn door at the weekend. Such is the way with a target man whose form has always been as patchy as his fitness record.

Peter Løvenkrands, currently injured, is a willing workhorse, not a first-choice Premier League striker.

Hatem Ben Arfa has provided the je ne sais quoi his manager Alan Pardew yearns but, denied a run of games, only sporadically. His artistry demands an orthodox centre-forward to play off and create for. Ba’s absence, for up to six weeks at the African Cup of Nations, shows Newcastle are dependent on him continuing to defy medical logic by playing so regularly with a degenerative knee condition.

When a deal for Modibo Maiga was scrapped over not dissimilar problems to the ones overlooked in Ba, Pardew declared the striker search off for another six months.

Now it emerges they have reignited their interest in Mevlüt Erdinç, who got away last summer. They need to be second time lucky, or unveil Plan C.

The massive strides made under Pardew deserve the further investment fans were promised when £35m was banked for Carroll.

At least Newcastle have strikers.

Darren Bent

Sunderland kicked off their FA Cup campaign – arguably their most important competition now the threat of relegation has receded under Martin O’Neill – without one. Against Peterborough United they had a splodge of midfield players in front of their back four.

Given nearly a fortnight to cast around for another goalscorer after Bent’s £18m move to Aston Villa, the Black Cats decided against.

In Asamoah Gyan they had a centre-forward they had recently invested £13m in, while the on-loan Danny Welbeck was showing huge potential. Help would have been handy, but there was no need to panic. They were not to know they would see little of the pair in the second half of the campaign through injury.

Instead Steve Bruce bought Stéphane Sessègnon – a shrewd acquisition, but in the Ben Arfa mould.

The little man from Benin was not envisaged as the lone striker he had to be at London Road last Sunday.

Bruce did not sit on his hands in the summer, and owner Ellis Short handed him some cash, albeit not as much as he would have liked.

It means the player O’Neill needs may already be on his staff, just as the answer to his left-wing problem was sat in the reserves.

In June, Connor Wickham became Sunderland’s most expensive teenager as Ji Dong-won arrived from South Korea.

Two youngsters new to the Premier League, neither likely to have an instant impact, as Bruce realised. Injuries have hampered Wickham but his physique and talents point to him as ideal for O’Neill’s approach.

He must quickly decide if the 20-year-old is ready now, though if the answer is no, finances may restrict his ability to change things.

Gyan unexpectedly left on loan, his hunger for money outweighing his debt to Wearside, and his replacement, the on-loan Nicklas Bendtner, has not cut the mustard. The talent is there in abundance, unlocking it is far from straight-forward. With Sunderland committed to taking him for the season, there seems little alternative but to try.

Fraizer Campbell, a goalscorer for the reserves this week, could be a surprise gift, but after two cruciate operations in a year, his knees are far more of a gamble than Ba’s.

Twelve months of football have made the fees Newcastle and Sunderland extracted for their prize centre-forwards look like great business. But money in the bank is of no use to supporters – they want to see it out on the pitch.

The problems Carroll and Bent’s departures caused remain. We must not start the next window still talking about them.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer