So, it's that time of the year again - how are Hartlepool shaping up so far this pre-season?
We've only had to one game so far, which was a routine 4-0 win against Billingham Town, so it's pretty difficult to base anything on a match like that, with all due respect. The squad have just returned from a pre-season training camp in Spain. The camp apparently had top-class facilities which can only be a good thing in the long run for a side like ours.
That said, we have just had our chief executive resign just three weeks before the start of the season, so it'll be interesting to see where exactly we go from here.
You seem to have made a fair few new signings already. What sort of impact can you see them having?
A few of our new signings are young lads and are seen by Craig Hignett as ones for the future, rather than being thrown straight into the first team. We've lacked a goal scoring midfielder over recent years but Nicky Deveredics scored fourteen goals in the Conference last season and can hopefully offer us something different.
Lewis Alessandra and Padraig Amond (who scored thirty goals for Grimsby last season) will be looking to be the ideal strike partner for Billy Paynter, now that Scott Fenwick and Rakish Bingham have both left the club.
How do you see Craig Hignett faring in his first full season in charge?
I can't see us struggling towards the bottom this season, which is the first time I've said that in a while.
League Two looks like a difficult division to call this year, but I can see us finishing around mid-table under Hignett. Higgy and Curtis Fleming come across as a good hands-on management duo and while that may not seem like much, it is a big improvement as the standard of coaching at Pools has been criticised hugely over the last few seasons.
What do you think Hartlepool's target for the forthcoming season should be?
Our target should be to build on from the end of last season. We confirmed survival with six games to go, so another stress-free end to the season would be nice. We relied a lot on Billy Paynter's goals last season, but hopefully with the signings of Amond and Deveredics that won't be a problem this time round.
From an outsider's point of view, what do you think of the Allardyce for England crack?
Out of him, Steve Bruce and Jurgen Klinsmann, Allardyce would be my preferred choice. Obviously Sunderland will already have a plan B just in case but it isn't an ideal scenario for any club to not be able to concentrate on the start of a new season. You can't blame Allardyce for wanting what would be a dream job, nor Sunderland for wanting to him to stay so, for the sake of both parties, it's something that will need to be resolved quickly - even if England's next game isn't until September.
Are there any players you think Sunderland should be wary of?
Arguably the best news of pre-season is Nathan Thomas signing an extended contract, despite interest elsewhere. He's a tricky left winger with pace to burn, on his day he's a potential match winner and we always look more likely scoring with him in the side. If Thomas can remain consistent, he will be a big asset for us this season.
Trevor Carson started his career at Sunderland - how's he getting on?
He was our player of the year last season, and could count himself unlucky not to be one of Northern Ireland's keepers at the Euros. I'd rate Carson as one of the best keepers in League Two as his distribution, confidence when collecting crosses and shot stopping are all excellent. I can only recall Carson being at fault for one goal last season, which isn't too bad going, is it?
How do you see the game going tonight and what do you think the score will be?
There should be a decent crowd making for a decent enough atmosphere - well, decent for a friendly!
Both sides will be shaking off a bit of rustiness but you should have too much quality for us so I'm going with a close 2-1 Sunderland win.