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Roker Report Predicts: Part Two

It's time to carry on the proud Roker Report preseason tradition of setting ourselves up to look like absolute fools.

Chris Brunskill

How wrong can one group of lads be about football? We find out every year - very wrong to pretty embarrassing levels - but that doesn't stop us. Today, Kristan Heneage, Michael Graham, Stephen Goldsmith, David Wheatley and former Roker Reporter David Boyle give us a few predictions for the upcoming season.

(You can see what the other Roker Report lads reckon in Part One, which is HERE)

Preseason has gone very well, results wise, but what can we actually take from it?

Kristan Heneage: Reports of the club's demise were greatly overstated. Hanging on by the very skin of their teeth last year, it was expected that Sunderland would require an extensive overhaul this summer. The truth it, there's a solid core of players there that simply need a few considered additions. You also have a crux of players that arrived last year that have looked more accomplished and more settled in the squad. Gus Poyet's tactics seem to finally be seeping into the squad's head and the performance against Udinese showed a lot of potential.

I think pre-season also showed there's a future for those in the development squad. Charis Mavrias and a clutch of youngsters including Mandron all gave strong showings and showed they can be relied on. I think given a more structured tactical framework will mean they not only see more action but performer better in the process.

Michael Graham: Not a lot, really. Preseason is always an odd thing at the best of times, but I suspect that the team the team we carry into the bulk of the season will be very different to the one that we have seen during the friendlies.

All that we can really take from it is that we are left in absolutely no doubt about what to expect, tactically, from Gus Poyet.

Stephen Goldsmith: Nowt, because it's preseason. I'm happy the players seem to be happy because that really is important. And you don't dance like John O'Shea did in Portugal unless you're happy.

David Wheatley: I've never put much stock in pre-season results when players aren't at their sharpest on either side and the competitive edge simply isn't there. I suppose it's always nice to win games whether in pre-season or not, but it'll have very little bearing on the upcoming campaign. The work done on the training ground will probably be much more useful in terms of overall preparation and in particular the development of a healthy team spirit.

David Boyle: Diddly-squat I would suggest. Without wanting to fall back upon some well-worn clichés, pre-season is not a period from which results should be analysed but rather the ability to gel together a squad in a short period of time.

With that in mind however, we should commend Sunderland on putting right the wrongs of last summer's disastrous pre-season regime under former dictator Paolo Di Canio where triple training sessions were the order of the day in place of what the Italian perceived as meaningless run-outs against lesser opposition.

With barely a handful of "fixtures" completed it should have come as no surprise that come the opening day of the season there was little to no semblance of cohesion among the squad, especially given the vast number of new faces Di Canio tried to cobble together.

In comparison, I suppose you could class this summer's preparation as a success.

How would you rate Sunderland's transfer business so far and how does the squad to start the campaign compare to the one that finished last season?

Kristan Heneage: I'd give it a B. There is scope for improvement certainly. Fabio Borini has been an arduous pursuit and if it ends up he doesn't come it will feel like a summer wasted. I think the acquisition of Jack Rodwell speaks for itself and ramps the quality of the midfield up significantly. What I've been impressed with most is the learning from last summer's mistakes. Every squad needs padding/depth, and last summer the club went overboard. Worse than just that, they signed a number of players who had no idea what they were coming into. This season the new players all have Premier League experience and that will benefit the club a lot.

I think if moving forward they can secure more players of the ilk of Patrick van Aanholt they may also be onto a winner. He cost just £1.5million and was on the cusp of the Dutch World Cup squad. He needs refining defensively but he represents an asset that will make the club money whether he fails or succeeds.

Michael Graham: It has been solid rather than spectacular. Of the seven brought in to date, it's only really Patrick van Aanholt who hasn't got much of a Premier League track record and even he has been in this country for many years now.

I think there is still an awful lot of work to be done, and the prolonged Fabio Borini saga has bored the pants off us all. I'm cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the transfer window, but for now Lee Congerton has just about adequately replaced what was lost over the summer. The test now will be whether he can improve upon it in the remaining couple of weeks.

Stephen Goldsmith: Could be better, but there's every chance the likes of Diakite, Cabral and N'Diaye refusing to surrender their Premier League salaries without fight could have hampered progress on further incoming transfers. It's a Jack Rodwell away from being frustrating as hell and panic stations but none of us know what's going on behind closed doors - never can I remember Sunderland managing to keep transfer activity this secretive.

David Wheatley: We've made a statement signing in the shape of Jack Rodwell, who I believe can be a huge star for us this season. The jury is out on the Bosman transfers so far; they seem decent enough on the face of it, but have yet to prove themselves at Premier League level. There is still work to do in order to ensure we have a strong enough squad to improve dramatically upon the league showing last time around. Meanwhile, van Aanholt has a lot to live up to when replacing former loanee Alonso at left-back. There remains several key positions that need to be filled from the end of last season and therefore we don't appear a great deal different in comparison with three months ago.

David Boyle: A work very much in progress, I would say. That said, the replacements who have come through the door, the likes of Pantilimon, Jones and Gomez are certainly improvements on their predecessors and in PVA we actually have a left-back we can call our own - quite whether he is any good remains to be seen.

Rodwell is the obvious standout transfer, so far, and quite rightly gives fans a reason for optimism. Should the former Evertonian have put his injury woes firmly behind him he could very well be the dynamic, box-to-box midfielder we have been crying out for.

However, I would still argue that we still need a few new faces in before the end of the summer and I would expect the club to fill their quota of Premier League loanees yet again.

What are you most looking forward to this season?

Kristan Heneage: Jozy really. The American had a horrible season and he recently told Jeff Carlisle about it in more detail. I think with a year to adjust, and a side that now players more harmoniously he'll thrive. Having met Jozy in Scotland last year while on international duty, I sensed he has a strong relationship with Gus Poyet. His face lit up when he discussed Poyet and that was after just a short time working with him. I noted Poyet was very protective over him as well.

Michael Graham: Identity.

For far too long now I've been going to the Stadium of Light never really knowing what to expect. Results wise, you never know, which is the fun of it, but tactically you never had a clue what Steve Bruce's, Martin O'Neill's and Paolo Di Canio's teams were trying to do. I don't think we'll have that problem with Gus Poyet, though.

I'm a firm believer that fans will get behind anything if they can identify it. If you can see what the plan is you can get behind it. The flip side of that is that not seeing a plan leads to frustration, and I've often wondered how big a part that lack of identity has played in the Stadium of Light becoming a very difficult place for Sunderland to play. I'm hoping - praying - that is put right this season.

Stephen Goldsmith: Just winning home games against bottom half sides. That's all you want when turning up to watch your team. Doing it by knocking the ball about is also a bonus and a nice contrast to what we went through under Martin O'Neill.

David Wheatley: Seeing if Jack Rodwell can reproduce the performance level that he's capable of, as shown during his time at Everton. Also, quite looking forward to witnessing Gus Poyet's team deliver his preferred style of play. I'm very much hoping the players can pull it off, so that we can be served up some really entertaining football this season.

David Boyle: Progress. The foundations were set last year by the gaffer, in incredibly difficult circumstances, for Sunderland to evolve into an effective, passing outfit that is easy on the eye. More of that please, Gus.

What will constitute success for Sunderland this season?

Kristan Heneage: Anything better than last year. A better home record, and more commanding performances. It's time the club bossed opponents and showed their quality, especially at the Stadium of Light. The place can be electric on the right day and as lesser teams have shown, making your home a fortress is often the precursor to success.

Michael Graham: Sunderland just not being massive dickheads for a change would be absolutely lovely.

Stephen Goldsmith: Avoid a relegation battle and keep our heads above water.

David Wheatley: A successful campaign would involve a top-ten finish in the league, with a decent cup run in at least one competition. We must steer clear of relegation trouble at the very least.

David Boyle: Staying well clear of the bloody drop zone for a change. Continuing the trend of derby victories would be canny n'all.

Who will be the Sunderland star of the season?

Kristan Heneage: Adam Johnson - Talismanic was the best way to describe Johnson last season. Some player's thrive on that pressure, others crumble. At times it seemed a heavy burden for his shoulders and I think the arrival of Rodwell means he's no longer the star attraction. That will allow him a freedom to breathe and play the game he's produced at patches so far for Sunderland. Johnson has the quality to represent England, and for him the biggest thing this season is gaining consistency.

Michael Graham: Contract permitting, Connor Wickham. We know that he isn't perfect and those question marks remain over his attitude, but he is one of the very few players in Sunderland's squad who can be a genuine impact player and game-changer. He has already shown that.

Finally - FINALLY - Wickham has a coach who has confidence in him and the opportunity to shine. I think he just might.

Stephen Goldsmith: Jack Rodwell. Pleeease. Not since Jordan Henderson left have we had a player capable of getting up and down the field in an imposing manner. Please don't pull up your first game with a season ender, Jack. Please don't.

David Wheatley: Not including prospective new signings, I can certainly see Connor Wickham hitting the back of the net regularly to become our main man this year.

David Boyle: I imagine that Jack Rodwell will have been a popular pick for this question and whilst I certainly wouldn't disagree with the sentiment and expect the midfielder to have a massive impact on this side, I just fancy Steven Fletcher to recover his goal scoring touch following a non-event of a season last time around, a season wasted through injury.

On his day Fletcher is easily one of the best forwards of any club at "our level" in the Premier League and with the Scot looking sharp in pre-season he could prove to be influential once again.

Who will be the Sunderland flop of the season?

Kristan Heneage: This is such a harsh award to pick. It should be sponsored by schadenfreude. Lee Cattermole. I'm sorry, I know he brings ‘passion' and a high waste band, but I just don't think he's good enough. His touch is not good enough to be a number 6, and I think his niche is very limited to just away games where you want to sit deep and break quickly.

Michael Graham: Billy Jones. It's that that I don't rate Jones. Actually, he's a player I've always liked and was genuinely pleased to see arrive. I worry about his fitness, though, and if Santiago Vergini gets a run in the side I am not sure he'll be all that easy to shift.

Stephen Goldsmith: Billy Jones. No logical reason why other than at least one of your signings is always gid shan. Name out of a hat.

David Wheatley: Jozy Altidore will find it difficult to turn things around and I think he'll struggle badly once again.

David Boyle: Billy Jones’ haircut.

Where Sunderland will finish?

Kristin Heneage: 14th
Michael Graham: 12th
Stephen Goldsmith: 12th
David Wheatley: 12th
David Boyle: 11th

Premier League Champions:

Kristin Heneage: Manchester City
Michael Graham: Chelsea
Stephen Goldsmith: Chelsea
David Wheatley: Chelsea
David Boyle: Chelsea

Rest of the top four?

Kristin Heneage: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United
Michael Graham: Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal
Stephen Goldsmith: Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal
David Wheatley: Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal
David Boyle: Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal


Kristin Heneage: Burnley, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa
Michael Graham: Burnley, Hull City, West Bromwich Albion
Stephen Goldsmith: Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion, Burnley
David Wheatley: Southampton, Aston Villa, Burnley
David Boyle: Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City

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