Sunderland have a striker problem and the free agent market looks as though it could be the only way they can solve it.
The Black Cats beat out a host of Championship rivals to the signing of Leeds United loanee Joe Gelhardt in January but their winter recruitment has to be viewed as disappointing in general as they failed to properly replace the injured Ross Stewart.
With Ellis Simms recalled by Everton last month and Stewart now out for the rest of the season, Gelhardt is the only centre-forward in Tony Mowbray’s squad. As talented as the 20-year-old is, and he is a fantastic player, that is far from an ideal position to be in and looks like a real obstacle to their promotion hopes.
It would be a nightmare if the Leeds loanee were to be sidelined with injury but even if he stays fit, it’s a lot to ask of him to play almost every minute of every game between now and the end of the season and there’s now a lot of pressure on him to score the majority of Sunderland’s goals. On top of that, Mowbray’s in-game management options are restricted by the lack of a striker on the bench.
The North East club could do with adding another centre-forward to their squad, which could provide some cover and competition for Gelhardt and give Mowbray a game-changing attacking option from the bench.
With the January window now closed, the Black Cats will have to turn to the free agent market if they do try and do that between now and the end of the season.
Some Sunderland supporters may not like it but Lewis Grabban represents a potential solution for them. The 35-year-old remains a free agent after leaving Nottingham Forest in the summer and has a fantastic record at Championship level.
The Stadium of Light faithful have seen firsthand what a dangerous weapon he can be in the second tier but many will, understandably, not have forgiven him for the bitter way his time at the club ended.
Grabban scored 12 goals in 20 games while on loan at Sunderland in the 2017/18 season but was recalled by AFC Bournemouth midway through the campaign and the Black Cats were eventually relegated. The way the striker conducted himself drew criticism from then-manager Chris Coleman and many supporters while it all resurfaced when the Sunderland ‘Til I Die docu-series came out.
The forward appears to have matured significantly since that point, however, and was a leader at Forest. He showed last season for the Reds that he can still be effective in a bit-part role, scoring 14 goals in 34 appearances for Steve Cooper’s side, while he knows what it takes to win promotion via the play-offs.
Having a seasoned pro like Grabban would help Gehardt’s development and mean Mowbray is able to rest and rotate him when needed. On top of that, it would mean Sunderland are prepared for any potential injuries or suspensions the 20-year-old may face.
He’s understandably a controversial figure at Sunderland but Grabban would represent a potential short-term solution for the Black Cats. What a redemption story it would be if he could help them secure promotion.