Sunderland analysis: The key attribute any new signings MUST have

Patrick van Aanholt celebrates his goal
Patrick van Aanholt celebrates his goal

Whoever arrives at Sunderland over the next seven days, for whatever price or from whichever club, one key attribute is required.

They MUST be able to hit the ground running.

With only 15 games remaining to save their Premier League skins, Sunderland are desperate for fresh blood who make an immediate impact on improving the starting XI, rather than purely bloating the numbers available to Sam Allardyce.

New boys Dame N’Doye and Jan Kirchhoff may well come good by the end of the campaign.

May is the time to judge whether the two overseas imports have proved to be astute additions.

But, in the here and now, there have to be question marks over whether they are sufficiently boosting Sunderland’s survival hopes.

Kirchhoff missed Saturday’s Bournemouth draw with a minor knock, yet even if he had been available, the German showed at Spurs how far short of match fitness he is.

The ex-Bayern Munich man requires another month or so before he’s really ready.

Allardyce opted not to deploy N’Doye from the bench against the Cherries over fears that Sunderland would be overrun if he sacrificed the midfielder and he didn’t want to take off Jermain Defoe, even though the awful service had seen the England international make minimal impact.

However, N’Doye last completed 90 minutes on November 30.

There have to be serious doubts over his sharpness.

Look at what’s happening elsewhere and the prominent captures at Sunderland’s relegation rivals are already making their presence felt.

Benik Afobe was excellent for Bournemouth on Saturday; the £10million striker netting for the second game on the spin and constantly putting Sunderland’s back four on red alert, albeit his goal stemmed from John O’Shea’s poor defending and Vito Mannone’s weak goalkeeping.

Steven Naismith scored for Norwich after his £8.5m move from Everton, while Jonjo Shelvey helped Newcastle to a crucial win over West Ham last week.

Had £7m capture Lewis Grabban not fluffed a sitter late on for Bournemouth, then it really would have shown the benefits of the Cherries’ big investment in the January window.

Is there the finance available to Allardyce to make similar buys?

The pursuit of Swansea’s Andre Ayew suggests there is, although the picture never appears clear over the accessible funds at Sunderland these days.

Considering Sunderland’s record in the market over the last three or four years, there is no guarantee that any new boys would avoid the well-trodden path towards transfer flop either.

Yet the Black Cats need players who at least promise to immediately make a big noise, and not solely to improve the quality levels in Allardyce’s starting XI.

Sunderland are in need of an injection of fresh energy at present, as much as anything else.

Allardyce’s men were alarmingly heavy-legged at times against Eddie Howe’s Cherries, particularly in that harrowing opening 25 minutes, when Harry Arter, Marc Pugh and Junior Stanislas were able to manipulate the ball around the red and white shirts with ease.

At their best, Lee Cattermole and Yann M’Vila are the heartbeat of this Sunderland side, but both have looked jaded over recent weeks as the festive programme has taken its toll.

M’Vila was far from Sunderland’s worst performer on Saturday, but, as at Swansea in the recent 4-2 win, the Frenchman isn’t the same all-conquering midfielder that was seen earlier in the season.

It’s completely understandable. This is the first year of his career that M’Vila has not benefited from a winter break and after barely any first-team football last season, he’s been an ever-present for Sunderland since August.

But Allardyce simply doesn’t have the genuine option of taking M’Vila out of the firing line.

The lethargy was present throughout the side.

No pressing, appallingly sloppy passing in the first half, and lazy hit-and-hope hoofs towards Defoe.

The service towards Defoe improved slightly in the second half, but using the 33-year-old in that manner is utterly pointless.

In fact, it’s worse than that, it’s defensively suicidal.

Bournemouth were able to continually regain possession cheaply and advance towards Mannone’s goal with plenty of numbers already inside the Sunderland half.

Adam Johnson – shifted into the number 10 role instead of Jeremain Lens for the second half – took some responsibility towards improving Sunderland’s pattern of play, yet it was again Patrick van Aanholt who was the player bursting with energy and confidence.

Defensively, van Aanholt was suspect early on against the bright Stanislas, yet the run and finish for the left-back’s equalising goal – cancelling out Benik Afobe’s early headed opener for the Cherries – gave Sunderland an ill-deserved lifeline on the stroke of half-time.

Bearing in mind the context of the first half, a point wasn’t catastrophic for Sunderland, who at least prevented Bournemouth emerging victorious and creating a nine-point buffer with the Black Cats.

But the understandable fear among those leaving the Stadium of Light was that a draw wasn’t sufficient, considering both Manchester clubs and Liverpool are next on the horizon.

None are infallible at present – particularly Louis van Gaal’s misfiring Manchester United – but Sunderland have not even managed a point this season against one of last year’s top six.

The closest they have come were away to north London pair Arsenal and Spurs, where they ended up on the receiving end of 3-1 and 4-1 defeats.

Surely, that will have to change if Sunderland are to survive.

If the Black Cats suffer three consecutive defeats over the next three weeks, then they will be cast adrift to virtually the point of no return.

The arrival of a fresh face or two over the next seven days has to make all the difference in Sunderland’s need to upset the odds.