Sunderland’s striker conundrum: Explore free agent market or put trust in youth?

Josh Maja converts a pre-season penalty in Sunderland's win at Hartlepool United. Picture by Frank Reid
Josh Maja converts a pre-season penalty in Sunderland's win at Hartlepool United. Picture by Frank Reid

A familiar feel, a deadline day passing with the frustrating lack of an arrival on the striker front.

The word had been that the bulk of Sunderland’s budget would be spent on the forward line.

In the end, that was true, even if it came to little over £500,000.

A surprising lack of sales, and spiralling costs for key targets, as well as Max Gradel passing by in circumstances outside of the club’s control, means that Simon Grayson will have to work with limited options.

Last season, David Moyes was in a similar boat, and moved to bring in free agent Victor Anichebe. It worked for a while, Anichebe superb to begin with, but injuries struck again and served as a quick and cruel reminder as to the reason he had been available in the first place.

Sunderland fans will be wondering whether Grayson will be tempted to go down a similar road, and certainly a late arrival would lift spirits.

Whether that is likely, or even desirable, is another matter.

Players currently available in that position are underwhelming to say the least. In terms of the profile Grayson is after, experienced at Championship level, only Rickie Lambert really fits the bill.

His career has been in decline for some time, and injuries had taken a clear toll on his mobility and athleticism during an unhappy and unproductive time at Cardiff.

Summer signing James Vaughan is struggling for goals and confidence but is still very much a superior option.

The failure to land a striker also offers a potential opportunity to two young players who truly deserve it.

Josh Maja may have no experience of first-team football and to place too much expectation on him would be unfair, but his form in pre-season was superb and, above all else, he impressed with his physical maturity as much as his technical excellence.

Injury could not have come at a worse time for the 18-year-old, but he fully deserves an opportunity to show what he can do. Vibrant, quick and clinical, he can bring another dimension to the Sunderland attack.

Lynden Gooch, too, deserves a chane in his favoured position in the front line.

He may not possess Maja’s quality, but the American brings drive and tenacity, with his excellent Carabao Cup goal at Carlisle a sign of his talent, too.

The lack of a reliable goalscorer is quite clearly the biggest obstacle to success on Wearside this season.

It will not be until January that Grayson has any chance to add the quality he needs, though the return of Duncan Watmore will provide him with another interesting option.

In the meantime, opportunity beckons for Maja, Gooch and indeed Vaughan to show they can assume the mantle.