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James Hunter

Kristjaan Speakman insists Sunderland's failure to land a striker was not due to lack of ambition

Kristjaan Speakman insists Sunderland's failure to land another striker before the transfer deadline was not due to a lack of ambition or finance. Sunderland sporting director admits he was left with a sense of 'frustration and disappointment' after seeing his efforts to bring in a suitable high-quality replacement for the injured Ross Stewart come to nought.

Sunderland did land four players over the course of the month and he says the club had a number of 'seven-figure' bids in for players at various times. With top scorer Stewart suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in last weekend's FA Cup tie at Fulham, Sunderland now find themselves with on-loan Leeds United man Joe Gelhardt as their only out-and-out centre-forward but Speakman believes the club's coterie of versatile front players are more than capable of picking up the slack.

"We are really fortunate that we have seven or eight really versatile front players and our option has been, if we need to, to use them in a different way," Speakman told the club's podcast SAFC Unfiltered.

READ MORE: Sunderland confirm extent of Ross Stewart's injury as striker is ruled out for the season

"We have versatile players that we think can solve the problem. I certainly don't think it is us lacking ambition or doing due diligence in the market or a lack of finance. We had bids in on players that we felt were appropriate.

"Ultimately, what we can't do is take this as something that will define the outcome of our season. We have a really positive group of players who play a really nice brand of football and we have to maintain that."

Asked about the window more broadly, he added: "It's really difficult at this moment in time because you've still got a lot of emotion aligned to it. Overall, we're really, really, pleased with the progression.

"We're really chuffed with the players that we have acquired and the decisions we have taken in terms of players in the group and players we have put [out] on loan for various different reasons. But, ultimately, we are left with a frustration and a disappointment because we'd have liked to have acquired one more player, based on the fact that Ross [Stewart] had that really unfortunate and tragic injury."

Speakman said the search for a replacement for Stewart started even before the final whistle had gone at Fulham. "We had a really, really clear plan going into the window, and a really healthy set of options," he said.

"We always appreciate that the January window is the most difficult in terms of trying to acquire players. We had several seven-figure bids on players that we were trying to make permanent additions to enhance the long-term strategy.

"And then we moved to get Joffy [Joe Gelhardt] which was probably one of the most competitive acquisitions for a loan player I have ever been involved in, and I'm really proud of the guys to get that one over the line. We're then in a position where we have two high-profile centre-forwards and it is a really difficult proposition to try to find a third who is happy to come under those circumstances.

"We were looking at some options for a third striker with a younger profile to come in and provide some depth. At 2.55pm at Fulham we were really happy with our work and the balance, but unfortunately - and these things happen in professional sport - Ross got a significant injury moments into the game.

"Then at half-time I was on the phone with Stuart [Harvey, Sunderland's head of recruitment] trying to readdress and reorganise our target list to try and find a solution in the final three days [of the window]. It's a really difficult task at that point but we were still fairly confident in terms of the options that we had and some of the conversations that were ongoing over that period of time, but we found ourselves in a position where none of the available players fitted what we needed."

Sunderland went into the January window knowing they needed another striker as cover and competition for Stewart after Everton recalled Ellis Simms from his loan spell at the beginning of the month, and that was the role Gelhardt was brought in to fulfil. But Stewart's injury meant they then needed another, and one potential option was the return of Simms to Wearside but in the event Everton decided to keep hold of him after their own efforts to bring in another striker ran aground.

Speakman said: "We were constantly monitoring Ellis' situation. I think Everton's position is well-documented and people will be able to make their own judgement on that, and unfortunately Ellis just wasn't made available for loan. It would have been fantastic had that occurred on the final day and that would have potentially solved our problem, but I think the most important thing is that myself, Kyril [Louis-Dreyfus, the Sunderland owner], Tony [Mowbray], the coaching staff and the recruitment staff have been adamant from the start - as we have in every window - that we have to acquire the right players to play our style, in and out of possession, and we also have to have the right characters."

Speakman also said Sunderland were not prepared to bring in a player just for the sake of it, and would only bring someone in if they would fit into the group. He said: "We're keen to stick to our strategy which is to sign high-quality, high-potential players, and I think our record speaks for itself on that.

"We've also focused on character and the evidence on and off the pitch is the relationship with the supporters, and I think the players play with a style and an integrity which embraces the community and what it stands for, which is in line with our values. We've been clear that we are not just going to add players for the sake of adding players.

"In some respects, it would have been easy to bring a player in, put a number nine shirt on them, and say 'ta-da, here's a striker'. But we're not going to make a move that would provide a negative to the group."


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