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International Soccer
Gyan ready for bigger role at Sunderland

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If Steve Bruce was writing the checks at Sunderland instead of owner Ellis Short, chances are striker Asamoah Gyan would not be wearing a Sunderland jersey.

Gyan became the most expensive signing in the history of the club in August when the Black Cats shelled out a little over $20 million to acquire the Ghana international from French side Rennes.

At the time, striker Kenwyne Jones had left the club to join Stoke City, while fellow frontman Fraizer Campbell was recovering from a serious knee injury, which left Bruce little choice but to buy a replacement.

And the fact that Sunderland was willing to pay that kind of money for Gyan came as a surprise to most experts, with Bruce admitting in November that the fee may have been a bit high.

"The one thing I try to do is think of it as if it's my money - not that I would ever pay $20 million for a footballer," the manager said.

Asamoah Gyan will now be asked to step up and supply even more goals for Sunderland.
"You try to get good value and you try to be a pit prudent as best you can.

"At the time, my thought was if something happened to Darren Bent, how could we cope? Thankfully, with this boy, who is different, very different, he has come to the party at the right time."

Little did Bruce know how right he would be with that last statement, as Bent stunned the club by handing in a transfer request on Monday. He joined Aston Villa on Tuesday in a club-record transfer that may reach almost $40 million.

Bent has been the top scorer on the team since signing from Tottenham in 2009, scoring 32 goals in 58 league appearances and helping Sunderland reach sixth place in the Premiership table through Sunday. His absence leaves a massive void to be filled up top.

And that is where Gyan comes in.

The Black Cats have relied on three players this season for goals, with Bent, Gyan and loan signing Danny Welbeck combining to score 21 of Sunderland's 26 league goals through Sunday.

More than half of Gyan's appearances have come as a substitute, but with Bent's departure, the 25-year-old will now be asked to step up and supply even more goals for a Sunderland team that will be hoping to remain among the European places.

There has been talk that Sunderland could try and sign Michael Owen from Manchester United, but at this point in his career, the injury-prone Owen can't match Gyan's pace and energy and would be used more as a substitute than a starter.

In fact, Gyan has been more effective when he is on the field at the start of the game, scoring five of his seven league goals as a starter as opposed to coming off the bench.

Gyan proved that he is capable of carrying the scoring load for a team this past summer at the World Cup, when he helped Ghana reach the quarterfinals with three goals and one assist in five games.

And while Gyan's World Cup will be forever remembered for his missed penalty kick against Uruguay in the dying seconds of extra time that would have put the Black Stars in the semifinal, he also rebounded by volunteering to shoot first in the penalty kick shootout and scoring.

Overcoming such a crushing defeat in the World Cup had to be tough, but Gyan showed once again on Sunday that he is well on his way to putting it in the past.

With Sunderland trailing bitter rivals Newcastle, 1-0, in the dying minutes of the match, Gyan found himself in the right place at the right time to score a dramatic equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

Phil Bardsley's shot was saved by Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper, but Gyan had made a good run to the front of the net and was on hand to redirect the ball over the goal line with his chest.

His celebration said it all as he simply shrugged his shoulders to acknowledge his good fortune, and would later acknowledge there was a bit of luck involved in the goal.

But scoring goals like that against a team like Newcastle is a great way to endear yourself to the Sunderland faithful.

And with a bigger role awaiting, he will have plenty of chances to justify to his manager and fans why he is worth every penny.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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