Sunderland completed their pre-season campaign with a lacklustre defeat at Leicester. Such results and performances have been a recurring theme this summer and it would be fair to say they have served to compounded the frustration most already feel at the lack of a breakthrough in the transfer market.
But are we letting it get it down? Not on your life!
What The Gaffer Said
Martin O'Neill was once again required to seek the positives as he saw Sunderland suffer another pre-season defeat.
We have plenty to work on. There are a number of areas which need strengthening.
Today, the second half was played at a better tempo than most of Wednesday night [at Derby].
It's Leicester's final game of the pre-season too before they kick off and I think the game had more of a competitive edge to it.
Preparation has been fine but you can always argue the case that the most important thing is getting players onto the field of play.
We've been unable to do that with Phil [Bardsley], who was absolutely flying at the start and then hurt himself and has missed all of pre-season.
As well, Sessegnon has come back and picked up an ankle problem, which we hope isn't too bad.
Unquestionably there is a certain degree of frustration to be found in the tone of O'Neill's reaction. Despite always maintaining a positive spin on pre-season, he appears to be have felt hampered by injuries and the failure to make significant breakthroughs in the transfer market.
I think we can all empathise with him on that one!
Disappointing Preseason Campaign?
You simply can't get away from the fact that it has been a very poor return this summer in terms of performances and results. It is never fun seeing your team losing games, no matter how relatively meaningless the fixture is.
That said, the temptation to read too much into these games should be one we resist whilst remembering the summer preparations have been disrupted by injury and an unusually busy schedule of international football.
In response to a 5-2 defeat by Benfica last month, Jose Mourinho said "of all the major trophies I have won, none of them have been in pre-season", and we'd do well to accept his point.
With Stephane Sessegnon still to return to the team as well as attacking additions that will surely be made in the next three weeks, Sunderland's toothless attack will have a very different look to it next season than it has this summer.
There will be people reading this and seeing nothing but excuses and spin, and that is their prerogative. But no one will ever convince me that pre-season results can offer any kind of indication as to what to expect from a league campaign, and I'd be making the very same point had each game been won at a canter. (MG)
Wickham's Continued Absence
Connor Wickham once again played absolutely no part. The official line is a rather vague 'slight injury'. That may well be true. Stranger things have certainly happened. Could there be something more to it, though?
Negotiations with Wolves over Steven Fletcher have proven to be a long and frustrating process, but Wickham's name has repeatedly been involved in the press coverage of the whole saga. It has been suggested that he could be offered to Wolves on a year-long loan as part of any deal to bring Fletcher to the Stadium of Light, and the suggestion re-emerged late last week.
This is merely speculation on my part, but could it be that Wickham being included in any potential agreement remains a serious possibility, and with talks at a delicate stage the club do not want to risk destabilizing them further by risking injury?
Or he could just be injured... (MG)
Has O'Neill Seen Enough?
Usually in the final preseason friendly of the summer managers will field what is close to their preferred starting lineup for the opening game. You have to imagine that in this situation here, Martin O'Neill has seen quite enough of his players to know the strongest team, and the lot who played against Leicester certainly didn't resemble it.
Simon Mignolet, barring injury midweek for Belgium should return, and despite him apparently being 'liked', Titus Bramble should be nowhere near a football pitch any time soon. Expect changes next week. Major changes. (SW)
Kieran Richardson, Football Traveller
Another game, another role for Kieran Richardson as this week the ex-Manchester United utility player lined up in an attacking midfield position. To a degree, it worked too as Richardson was one of our better performers on the day, creating a couple of chances for himself and generally was at the heart of anything we did which was half decent.
The problem is, can he fill that role full time once Stephane Sessegnon is back from injury? You'd have to highly doubt it. Which ultimately leaves Richardson jobbing around from position to position without fuss and like a consummate pro.
It's a real shame we can't find something more permanent for him. Left back would be a great option but it looks very much like O'Neill just doesn't fancy him there too much. If he's still here come the Arsenal game, it will be very interesting to see where O'Neill see's him fitting in. (SW)