The week leading into the international break turned out to be a memorable one for the Black Cats. Not only did the team secure their first league win of the new season with a memorable victory over Manchester City, but the club also broke their transfer record to complete the signing of Ghanaian international striker Asamoah Gyan.
On the final day of the transfer window, Sunderland spent £13m to bring Gyan to the club from Rennes. Having had spells in Italy with Modena and Udinese, Gyan played in Ligue 1 last season, scoring 14 goals in 47 games for the French club. His performances at the World Cup for the Black Stars caught the world’s attention however, in particular his spectacular extra time winner against the United States. With transfer speculation surrounding him rife throughout the summer, it was somewhat of a surprise to find that the Black Cats had pulled off this last minute transfer coup after Chairman Niall Quinn had, days previously, warned fans not to expect a great deal of transfer activity. Although the 24-year-old striker has scored 22 goals in 45 games for Ghana, he has never been the most prolific of strikers at club level, which was possibly the main factor keeping the biggest clubs away. However, his success at Sunderland could well depend on what kind of partnership he forms with last season’s top goal scorer Darren Bent – if he can chip in with a few goals this would also be more than welcome. Only four players have scored for Sunderland in 2010, and one of them, Kenwyne Jones, now plays for Stoke City. Of the last 20 goals the side have scored, 17 of them have come from Bent, so a second goal scorer in the side could potentially make a huge impact on the club’s fortunes.
Sunderland are at Wigan Athletic tomorrow and will be aiming to carry on where they left off with their league form. Steve Bruce will have an enhanced squad to choose from with Nedum Onouha available for selection again, and John Mensah rapidly approaching full fitness, although Michael Turner will miss out due to an ankle problem. However, all attention will be fixed on the record signing but with Gyan returning from international duty in midweek, Bruce is keeping his cards close to his chest on whether he will start: “I will have to weigh everything up when he comes back. Obviously the lad will be desperate to play. We hope he comes back in one piece. He will be assessed before the end of the week to see how he is.” Although the side have lost Fraizer Campbell to a long term injury, another option up front is Danny Welbeck, who impressed as a second half substitute against Manchester City. The young Manchester United player, currently on loan at Sunderland, looked energetic and gave the City defence a difficult time. Unlike any other current Sunderland player, Welbeck offers the unpredictable, with his quick feet, blistering pace and tendency to attempt the unexpected. Bruce could face something of a selection headache on Saturday but it is a problem he will welcome.
This week the Sunderland manager has claimed that reversing his side’s terrible away form is the top priority ahead of the trip to Wigan. The side have won just two of their last 20 away fixtures under the stewardship of Bruce, and this has increasingly frustrated fans, particularly when comparing lacklustre away showings with home wins over the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur: “Our mentality will have to change” said Bruce: “It’s been going on for years under different managers and they’ve not been able to crack it. It’s probably my biggest challenge since coming here, changing that mentality to make sure we improve and pick up some more away wins.” Although Bruce points to the fact the club have only won 10 games away from home in the last six Premier League seasons, he neglects to point out that for many of these seasons, the home form was dismal as well. The disparity between home and away form was great last season, making this a characteristic of the Bruce tenure so far, and one he must do something about. With another sold out away allocation at the DW Stadium on Saturday, it is the least Sunderland’s long suffering travelling supporters deserve.