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Sunderland Season Preview: The Thoughts Of Chris Young

Jack Colback: Is the managers favourite set for a pivotal role this coming season? This and more thoughts in our latest season preview!
Jack Colback: Is the managers favourite set for a pivotal role this coming season? This and more thoughts in our latest season preview!

This week has been all about speaking to some of the brightest folks and informed opinion makers in the North East, and these continue today with the Sunderland Echo's top man, Chris Young.

Chris has been covering the club superbly for quite some time now, and we're delighted to hear from him in a piece for our site after reading his great work in the Sunderland Echo.

Now we'll pass you over to Chris for more Sunderland opinion, and thoughts on how he things this coming season will pan out for the club...

As far as incomings this summer it's been relatively quiet round here. What have you made of Sunderland's business and what do you make of the potential names that have been linked to the club?

Chris Young: It's understandable alarm bells have begun to ring among supporters at the lack of fresh faces at the Stadium of Light, particularly after 18 have been freed from the wage bill.

There's little more than a fortnight to go before the end of the transfer window, let alone the start of the Premier League season.

But at least Martin O'Neill is not blind to Sunderland's deficiencies as an attacking force and is actively working to boost his options both up front and in midfield.

Sole summer signing Carlos Cuellar looks a cute piece of business by O'Neill - a centre-half who provides a calming presence at the back and anticipates potential threats. On a free transfer, the Spaniard was a no brainer.

It is up front where Sunderland's fate will be decided though. Steven Fletcher fits the mould of a centre-forward capable of holding the ball up and finding the net. But his goal record does not justify the Darren Bent-esque fee Wolves are demanding.

Sunderland also need more creativity in midfield and it's understandable why O'Neill has tracked the likes of Junior Hoilett, Adam Johnson and Aiden McGeady.

There have also been plenty of outgoings, with big-earners such as Craig Gordon, George McCartney and so forth all departing, while the sale of Michael Turner raised a few eyebrows too. Are there any more players you feel are on the chopping block?

CY: Turner's exit makes the future of Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon more secure after they were all vulnerable to the summer sales due to their contract situations.

But Kieran Richardson, who similarly has 12 months remaining on his deal, could still be allowed to go if Sunderland can land an alternative left-back.

Ahmed Elmohamady is another who is vulnerable after failing to start under O'Neill last season, but there won't be any imminent departure for the Egyptian.

Elsewhere, the young players are likely to be sent out on loan eventually - potentially including Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won - although O'Neill will wait until the transfer deadline has passed before permitting any temporary exits.

To position yourself on the fringes of the world of fantasy for a moment, who do you think would be a dream signing for Sunderland in the next few weeks, although isn't that far removed from possibility?

CY: At the risk of being lynched, Darren Bent ticks every box for Sunderland's requirements in the transfer market.
Bent is not thought to have particularly enjoyed his stint at Aston Villa and with the purse strings tight at Villa Park, it is not inconceivable that Sunderland could strike a deal.

In reality, the manner of Bent's exit and the reception on his return to the Stadium of Light last season, have alienated to such a degree that there would be no way back.

The problem for O'Neill though, is that Steven Fletcher aside, there are no obvious out-and-out centre-forwards available on the domestic market.

One who could inject some creativity into Sunderland's ranks is Adam Johnson after two years of rumoured loan moves following his decision to reject the Black Cats in favour of Manchester City.

But the Premier League champions would need to be persuaded to pay roughly half of Johnson's wages if he was to join Sunderland on loan. That really is fantasy...

Over the summer there's been a bit of a change of style into a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, although one of the main talking points has been wondering where Stephane Sessegnon fits into this. If you were the gaffer, where would you play him in order to get the best of him?

CY: I'm not sure Sunderland will stray too far from last season's blueprint when Sessegnon is fit.

O'Neill will persist with two wingers, as he has done throughout his managerial career, and Sessegnon will remain in the hole behind the main striker (whoever that may be).

Personally, I don't see any reason to move Sessegnon from that role.

Admittedly his goals ratio needs to improve as he is essentially playing as a striker. But if Sunderland can put players around Sessegnon who can put the ball in the net, then he makes space for others when given that central remit.

Martin O'Neill starts his first full season as Sunderland boss after a mixed year last year. How do you see the season going? More like the early ‘glory' days or more like the post-FA Cup run of disappointment?

CY: Replicating the form from his few few months in the hotseat will be tough for O'Neill.

Sunderland were riding a wave of confidence - almost relief at having a new manager - when O'Neill catapulted the side from the fringes of the relegation zone last season.

But neither should Sunderland be expected to slump as dramatically as they did after tamely exiting the cup.

Admittedly, Sunderland's fortunes will depend on O'Neill's efforts to boost his strikeforce.

But given the right recruits, O'Neill should inject some more consistency, with Sunderland holding their own in the top half.

There's a few players in the final year, or final two years of their contract at the club. For whom do you think this season it's crucial they begin to show their worth to the team and the fans?

CY: O'Neill has already confirmed that he intends to hand a new contract to Lee Cattermole.

But for the others who have less than 12 months remaining on their current deals - Kieran Richardson, Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon - it is far less certain whether they will remain on Wearside beyond next summer at the most.

Add to that list Fraizer Campbell, who faces a pivotal season in his career. Campbell's spectacular return last season was built largely on adrenaline, but his confidence seems to have dipped dramatically since.

The England man needs to prove that his injury troubles are firmly behind him and that he can rediscover the zip which had just started to shine through before his cruciate troubles began.

Time for some quick predictions if we could, and we'll start with your prediction for Player Of The Season, and why?

CY: It's difficult making predictions when the squad is still to be finalised, but it's hard to look too far past Sessegnon again.

The Benin international coasted to the title last season and he's got that Julio Arca-esque magic to spark the "oohs" and "aahs" on the terraces.

There will continue to be interest in Sessegnon, but unless anyone writes a cheque for more than £15m, it's difficult to see him parting ways with the club.

And your prediction for Young Player Of The Season?

CY: James McClean was the fairytale winner last season, but I fear he may have a more difficult time of it this time around. Don't get me wrong, I still think McClean will be a major threat for Sunderland, but full-backs will be more prepared to deal with him and he'll need to develop his game accordingly.

For me, Jack Colback could emerge as a pivotal figure for Sunderland.

O'Neill is a huge fan of the 22-year-old, who has remained on an upward curve since breaking into the starting line-up.

Where do you think Sunderland will finish next season?

CY: 9th

And finally, is this the year we claw back some of the bragging rights when it comes to them up the road. Can we beat Newcastle, and can we finish above them?

CY: Newcastle face a major challenge to replicate their achievements of last season, particularly given their relatively small squad has the added burden of the Europa League.

But both Sunderland and Newcastle can reasonably expect to be challenging in the top half and if O'Neill can add some quality up front, there will be relatively little between the two sides.

The derby has been Sunderland's Achilles heel over the last 30 years, although O'Neill's impressive Old Firm record does at least provide some hope.

At the very least, the tussles with the neighbours will hopefully live up to March's humdinger at the Sports Direct Arena. For me, that was the most enthralling encounter of the entire campaign.


Many Thanks to Chris for answering our questions. Make sure you support the local press buy picking up a copy of the Sunderland Echo and for more daily news and notes on Sunderland check out all Chris' work on the Sunderland Echo website (HERE). Also follow Chris on Twitter @YoungSunEcho

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