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Back in May when the reality dawned of just how much strengthening was required this summer, very few of us would have complained at the prospect of there being 10 senior arrivals over the coming months. It is probably also true to say, however, that had we been told that there wouldn't be a left back and a left-sided midfield player amongst those signings we would probably all have felt a familiar sense of befuddled frustration, albeit tinged with a sigh of quiet resignation to what seems an unavoidable inevitability.
It seems that our left hand side has, once again, been totally ignored. After the manager has been happy to go on record several times over the summer acknowledging the need to address an issue that has plagued the club for literally years, I am not all together sure whether that is forgiveable.
The lack of natural left-sided balance in the side is a familiar frustration to regular watchers of Sunderland. Although the left midfield position has been filled by the immensely popular Steed Malbranque for most of the last 3 years, it was his predecessor, Ross Wallace, who was the last man to offer genuine natural width in the position. It seems apparent that Charles N'Zogbia was earmarked to finally fill the void, but it would also appear that there wasn't sufficient attention given to the problem to line up any kind of alternatives.
The left back situation is even more ludicrous. Not since George McCartney originally left the club all the way back in 2006 has the club been able to boast a proven regular natural left back of any real quality. The task of replacing McCartney proved such a baffling mystery to the club that he was brought back to the club to replace himself, but the player that came back was a pale shadow of the one that had left and it proved to be nothing but an expensive mistake. Mind, the club's lack of urgency in addressing the left back position is far more excusable given the nonsensical propensity Sunderland fans seem to have for bestowing awards upon willing yet limited players filling the position. With such a rousing vote of confidence in, and appreciation of, left backs over recent years, a lack of urgency in replacing them can probably be forgiven. We reap what we sow, I suppose.
Kieran Richardson has long been considered a potential solution to the left sided problems, but if there is any real faith in him to produce it then there is precious little evidence of it. Bruce has often talked up Richardson's potential to evolve into a full back worthy of international consideration, yet lacks the courage of those convictions. If the player is going to learn the muckier side of the position then he isn't going to do it with a click of the fingers. There won't be any short cuts. He needs to have his place in the side cemented and mistakes accepted - something Bruce is apparently unwilling to do. Richardson could also, conceivably, play further forward on the left as he did as a second half substitute at the Liberty Stadium, but you can't help but feel that is the player was ever going to nail down a regular role for himself in the side, he would have done so a long time ago. Kieran seems destined, for whatever reason, to always be a man capable of covering a number of positions but a master of none of them.
Blair Adams, Billy Knott, and James McClean may offer some hope that the final answer may ultimately lie in the 'development squad' and it perhaps should be considered a positive that if they were primed to make a breakthrough into first team football then there path will not be blocked. But there seems little threat of that happening any time soon with the academy pair not even appearing to be at the stage where potential loan deals to the football league are being mooted. It will, therefore, presumably be back to the trial and error process of throwing a succession of existing players at the positions to see who is the best fit to provide a stop-gap until January at least.
Failure to address the left hand side aside, it must be considered a largely successful transfer window. O'Shea, Brown, and Bendtner bring genuine pedigree to the squad whilst two battling away draws in front of fervent crowds can be considered evidence of the current squad containing a much more resilient core than those of recent times. But unless Bruce can find some kind of solution within his current squad to the imbalance that he himself has acknowledged yet neglected to resolve in the transfer market, then patience will understandably be in very short supply should it continue to cost us.