Sunderland are a huge price to be relegated from the Premier League, yet their inability to score goals will be a massive cause for concern for all associated with the club, meaning they should not be discounted from falling through the top division’s trap door.
It’s 14/1 that the Black Cats finish the season in the bottom three – longer odds than nine other sides – but, following their Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Championship promotion-hopefuls Middlesbrough, they have now gone four games without one of their players finding the back of the net.
The side they fielded in the Tees/Wear derby was close to full strength with Louis Saha partnering Steven Fletcher up top, but they were completely outclassed by their north east neighbours throughout, who never looked in any danger of conceding.
With just six goals, Sunderland have scored fewer times than any other side in the top flight and no player other than £12m summer signing Fletcher getting on the scoresheet – aside from Demba Ba putting through his own net when they faced Newcastle.
Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon are the only other real goal-threats Martin O’Neill’s men possess and while the former is still waiting to break his duck in the red and white of his hometown team, Benin international Sessegnon is struggling for fitness this term.
His manager will need both to come to the party sooner rather than later as their only other sources of goals – Saha and recently acquired James McFadden – are somewhat over the hill; getting these players fit enough to start a game can be considered a minor achievement.
There is also Frazier Campbell to consider but, with just one start to his name this season, he looks to be a player who O’Neill doesn’t fancy.
The same can be said of forwards Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won; the Northern Irishman seems more open to loaning them out than throwing them in at the first-team deep end.
Wickham, in particular, was regarded as one of the brightest prospects in English football when Sunderland splashed out to sign him from Ipswich and he can’t do any worse in the goalscoring stakes than his teammates.
Placing faith in youngsters can sometimes yield all kinds of positive results, as Liverpool have found out this season with Raheem Sterling and a host of prospects.
It’s difficult to envisage an end to their goal-scoring woes as Fletcher cannot be expected to score enough goals by himself to keep the team winning matches and, if O’Neill’s reluctance to turn to their youth prospects persists, Sunderland could soon find themselves deep in the relegation mire.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date