MARTIN O'Neill will use this week's trip to Dubai to create something he has rarely had as Sunderland manager - a genuine strike partnership.
With no FA Cup game at the weekend, the Black Cats have flown to the Middle East for warm weather training. High on the agenda will be forming a partnership between top-scorer Steven Fletcher and £5m signing Danny Graham.
“We’ve got a good chance this week – there’s been very little chance so far with Steven Fletcher away with Scotland last week – to get them together and start working with them,” explained manager O’Neill.
“He (Graham) will sneak us a goal or two when it’s never been on or we haven’t deserved it.”
The pair have already played together twice, but only briefly. Graham was a late substitute at Reading, and at home to Arsenal on Saturday.
His debut came two days after joining from Swansea City, while the build-up to the Arsenal match was punctuated by Scotland’s friendly against Estonia.
Sunderland are in Dubai until the weekend, with their next competitive game is at West Bromwich Albion a week on Saturday.
For most of his time on Wearside, O’Neill has played 4-4-1-1, with occasional switches to variants of 4-3-3. Those systems have tended to leave lone striker Fletcher isolated, with Stéphane Sessègnon dropping too deep too often and the only midfielder who runs beyond the striker – Craig Gardner – generally at right-back.
Until buying Graham, O’Neill has not had a player he trusts alongside Fletcher in a 4-4-2 formation. Louis Saha, Fraizer Campbell, James McFadden and Ji Dong-won all left the Stadium of Light (the latter temporarily) last month, and on Friday Connor Wickham was loaned to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.
“I don’t think we’ve got one specific system, I hope not anyway, and in time my own view is the two players can play together,” said O’Neill.
“It’s just a matter of time and I don’t see that being a massive problem. We’ll see, it’ll take a little bit of time.”