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James Hunter

Ellis Simms return to Sunderland looking unlikely but Tony Mowbray still hopeful of new recruits

Tony Mowbray says he is 'hopeful, rather than confident' that Sunderland will bring in strikers before the transfer deadline to share the goalscoring burden with Ross Stewart - and admits it is looking less and less likely that Ellis Simms will return to Wearside. Everton's decision to recall Simms from his loan spell at the beginning of the month has left Stewart as Sunderland's only out-and-out centre-forward, and has meant the Black Cats are working hard to bring in at least one more attacking option this month.

A series of strikers including Leeds United's Joe Gelhardt, Nottingham Forest's Sam Surridge, and Blackpool's Jerry Yates have been linked with Sunderland, but so far no attacking reinforcements have arrived. One possibility was that Simms would be allowed to rejoin Sunderland on loan later in the month but Mowbray has his doubts over whether relegation-threatened Everton, who this week sacked manager Frank Lampard, will let that happen.

Asked whether he was confident he would get the strikers he needs this month, he said: "I'm hopeful, rather than confident, because some of these deals are not easy to do. You have targets, you have discussions, you meet players, you talk to clubs - not necessarily me, but others trying to get deals over the line.

READ MORE: Sunderland's FA Cup clash at Fulham is a chance to test their 'credentials' says Tony Mowbray

"Some of them are coming close and some of them are drifting away. I would be hopeful that we will add at least one striking option, and hopefully it is a very, very good striking option.

"It's dangerous - in inverted commas - to go into 19 league games with one striker, and yet if we had to do that ... we've already done three months of the season with no strikers [due to injury]. Hopefully, though, Ross will play every one of the remaining games and scores another dozen goals and helps the team win some matches.

"It would just be nice to be able to take the burden off him that he has to be out there for 90 minutes every game and score goals or else we struggle. Hopefully, by the end of this window we will have brought in a striking option, or potentially two striking options, to try and ease the burden on him.

"Obviously, Ellis Simms was here but he went back to Everton and with what's going on there at the moment it looks pretty unlikely that that option will be coming back because they haven't got a manager. If someone goes into Everton, they would want to see all the players and work with them on the grass and feel whether you think they can help, not just because somebody tells you send someone back out on loan.

"It looks as if that would be a really tight thing to rely on, to sit here and say 'it's OK, Ellis will come back', because Ellis might not come back. Our job as a club is make sure that we cover alll those bases, and we need if not one then two more strikers."

Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has been leading the effort to bring in a striker, along with head of recruitment Stuart Harvey. Mowbray said: "The lights in the building have been on until pretty late in the last few days.

"Kristjaan has been leaving and calling me pretty late at night just to give me an update on what the conversations were, what's happened, and where deals are at and whether they are progressing or going backwards. Then he's in early the next morning and the calls continue.

"That's why the window is always so busy towards the end, because these deals are time against money, time against money. Once the time starts running out, the money becomes less important and the deal is going to get done - that's why so much happens on deadline day.

"People bang their heads against walls for 30 days trying to get deals done, but very rarely do they get them done early."

Top scorer Stewart has also been linked with a move away from Sunderland this month as contract talks with the club continue without resolution, but Mowbray says it would be 'lunacy' to let him leave at this point. "I think the club's position has to be strong, to be honest," he said.

"It would be lunacy, wouldn't it, to sell your striker without having strikers coming in the door and then suffer the consequences of that. I know that conversations with Ross are still continuing and I hope that the end goal is that Ross signs a new contract with this club and we both prosper moving forward.

"The club has a responsibility, I think, to bring options in because in my opinion you can't go through with one out-and-out striker."

One player Sunderland have been linked with in recent days is Lille forward Isaac Lihadji and Mowbray confirmed that he is aware of the 21-year-old, although refused to go into detail. He said: "He's another young boy who has been on our list, really.

"I've seen some footage of him and I've seen some presentations of him, but I don't think there's anything more to say. I think it's better for me to sit here and talk about the ones we sign - I don't think it's right for me to say 'this one is really smooth and looks like it's going to happen, and these ones could happen on the last day'.

"What I would say is that no-one has signed at the moment. They are all difficult deals."


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