Sunderland suddenly felt the gulf in quality between themselves and the automatic promotion sides in the late kick-off on Saturday, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat away at Ipswich Town who occupy second place in the Championship.
That loss at Portman Road means the Black Cats are now an astounding 18 points off the top two, whilst the defeat also saw Sunderland shoved out of the playoff positions for a resurgent Coventry City to leapfrog Michael Beale’s men into sixth spot on goal difference.
Sunderland are still crying out for a prolific goalscorer – Beale’s outfit finding the back of the net a weak 37 times this campaign – and could well go after this current League One in-form man to help fix these recurring issues up top.
Sunderland’s striker search
According to reports, via The Sunderland Echo, Barnsley striker John McAtee is subject to interest from Sunderland, the Championship promotion hopefuls praying that McAtee relocates and becomes the star they need to lead the line.
However, they will have to fend off a whole host of other second-tier clubs to land the Tykes loanee this month with Ipswich, Cardiff City and Plymouth all also in for the 24-year-old attacker as per reports.
With his parent club in Luton Town arguably wanting McAtee to be tested in tougher surroundings away from the comforts of League One, the Black Cats would be foolish not to try and secure his services despite all this frenzied interest.
Yet, if a deal was reached, it could signal the end of Mason Burstow’s loan at the Stadium of Light – the Chelsea loanee having a torrid time of it on Wearside to date and could be moved on soon.
Why John McAtee is better than Mason Burstow
Straight off the bat, the 6 foot 1 star has shown this season that he knows where the back of the net is compared to his toothless Sunderland counterpart.
This campaign, in all competitions, McAtee has bagged nine goals whilst also showing his unselfish side for Barnsley by helping himself to three assists as well.
In stark contrast, Burstow has struggled every time he’s pulled on a Black Cats strip this season with 17 forgettable appearances passing him by with not a single goal managed.
McAtee’s display against Port Vale on Boxing Day showcased his importance to Barnsley as a clinical finisher in the Tykes team, singlehandedly steering Neill Collins’ men to a 3-2 victory with two decisive strikes in the contest.
Catching out Conor Ripley in the Vale net with a long-range screamer to make it 3-1, fans of the South Yorkshire club will be anxiously waiting to see if their paramount loanee moves on to pastures new in the Championship after such an impressive loan spell so far.
Those two strikes came about despite McAtee only amassing a meagre 23 touches in the entire game, the Black Cats desperately needing a deadly figure in their squad like McAtee to avoid more feeble displays in attack cropping up again such as the Ipswich loss – the visitors to Portman Road only notching up three on-target efforts across the 90 minutes.
Described as being “excellent” by Tykes boss Collins after netting another goal against Stevenage in December, McAtee could well want a fresh challenge after teasing League One defenders for fun recently.
With Nazariy Rusyn showing signs of clicking into gear recently – helping himself to a goal in Sunderland’s New Year’s Day win over Preston North End – McAtee could give the Ukrainian striker some much-needed competition up top and even displace the 25-year-old over time.
This would see ex-Charlton youngster Burstow fall even further down the pecking order at the Stadium of Light, Beale needing to be cut-throat and show that he’s not settling for average performances.
If Sunderland don’t want to be completely left behind in the ongoing promotion race, Beale will need to take action soon and signing McAtee would show intent from the Black Cats boss despite Burstow being cut adrift in the process.