The Black Cats have returned from their mid-season break in the United States, with sections of the Sunderland faithful expressing their discontent at the trip. However, the unrelenting nature of the English game means it is undeniably a good thing for the players to enjoy a change of scenery and climate – as well as providing the opportunity for some team bonding with many new faces arriving and returning to the squad in recent weeks.
The idea of a mid-season break is something that is very much part of modern day football, although over the years it has been used sparingly on Wearside, partially due to the frequent changing of manager. Many see these trips as a ‘holiday’ or a ‘reward’ for a squad that has consistently under-performed - but have these excursions reaped the rewards on the pitch in the past?
2015/16 - Dubai
Last season Sam Allardyce took his side to the United Arab Emirates for some warm weather, and more importantly, some fitness training.
Sunderland flew to the Middle-East in good form, with four points from three tough games. According to Big Sam the trip was designed as a way to increase team morale, whilst also integrating the new January arrivals.
When they come back they’ll be fitter, physically and mentally. They’ll be better prepared to finish the season. For me it has always been a very important time.
Prior to the trip Sunderland managed to take four points from games against Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. However, upon returning to Wearside, the Black Cats failed to win any of their next six games, drawing four and losing two. Obviously, the long-term success was clear for all to see, Sunderland managed to stay in the league whilst also keeping the majority of their first-team squad injury free.
2012/13 - Dubai
Prior to last season, you would have to go back three years to find the last time Sunderland decided to have a mid-season break. Martin O’Neill took his Sunderland side to Dubai, with the Wearsiders registering two wins, and picking up seven points from six games since the turn of the calendar year. Despite this average form the Black Cats were still six points clear of the relegation zone when they flew out to the Middle East, with O’Neill hopeful that Sunderland could push on.
It's been a change in routine and something I feel we've gained a bit of fitness from. We feel as if we've got something out of it, although I suppose the proof will be in the pudding in terms of results afterward.
Indeed the proof was in the pudding for O’Neill and for Sunderland. The Irishman would fail to register another win for Sunderland, picking up just two points from six games before being replaced by Paolo Di Canio five weeks after returning from Dubai - the Italian would luckily find two more wins to keep the Black Cats in the league.
If Sunderland’s last two trips are anything to go by then don’t expect David Moyes’ fortunes to change anytime soon. The New York trip differs from the two visits to Dubai, with Moyes emphasising the trip for team cohesion more than intense fitness drills. Nevertheless, if the long-term goal of keeping Sunderland in the Premier League is achieved, much like last year, then those against the trip will soon forget it even happened.