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Match Preview: Hartlepool (A) - “It’s the whole team that has to work harder”

After a humbling defeat away to St Johnstone last Saturday, Simon Grayson is keen to get his men back on the right track this evening against Hartlepool at Victoria Park.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

It’s fair to say that Simon Grayson, much like ourselves, wasn’t impressed with the football served up by his men at the weekend and is eager to ensure the Lads don’t collapse in such calamitous fashion during the coming season:

It’s a mental attitude from the team, a desire to make sure you don’t concede the next goal and give up the game after 25 minutes - on Saturday the game was virtually over at that point. You can’t give yourself those situations and expect to come back into it every week.

Tonight they face near neighbours Hartlepool United, who were relegated from League Two last season, and Grayson is determined that his men simply must start to produce the goods as the season proper fast approaches:

I’m not just talking about the back four, it’s the whole team that has to work harder and that’s something we need to improve on. It’s something that has happened over the last season or so where we concede one, and then it leads to two or three very quickly. You can’t afford to do that.

You accept that you are going to have goals go against you, but you have to make sure you don’t concede the next one, and that you dig in ... No matter what level you play at, when you concede a goal you have to be mentally and physically strong to make sure that you stay in the game.

The insistence of a mental solidity is definitely reassuring - especially when you consider how poor we were at times last season. During the Reid heydays Sunderland simply weren’t afraid of the opposition - regardless of their perceived might - and this was the key to their success. The basics were done well, and the team was able to rely on one another, yet those simple foundations have been missing for many a year. Grayson, however, looks determined to rectify those problems.

Hartlepool United v Derby County - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
This evening’s arena.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Grayson also spoke in recent days about the style of football his side will play over the course of the coming campaign, and again it all links back into the idea of solidity being key to any form of success.

In a way, Grayson’s general attitude and words resonate with the manner in which Sam Allardyce went about his business on Wearside with a strong, organised defence being paramount to the side’s ability to find positive results. And the no-nonsense approach to management he clearly favours is reassuring. It’s very much back to basics, and that’s exactly what Sunderland have needed.

It doesn’t always have to be the beautiful game, sometimes for five minutes it as about digging in, winning second balls and you can then grow into the game. It is a mindset the players have to get into themselves.

We’re alright with the ball, but off-the-ball we need to be better, working harder, prepared to run forward and back, and chase lost causes, and that will be the basic requirement of any player who is at this club.

I’ve been talking about this for the last two weeks, it is completely different to the Premiership, they have to get that into themselves very quickly. They can’t play tippy-tappy football all the time, because the opposition will be all over you. Play in the right areas, play further forward, too often we were just playing across the back. Go and work the opposition, make sure people are seeing it in the final third, expressing themselves, but you have to have people prepared to run up and down as well.

A disciplined, and composed Sunderland side would be something to behold, and would certainly be welcomed by fans of the club. However, Grayson has much work to do over the coming weeks if he is to find success with the club; Saturday’s collapse highlighted just that.

The man in charge certainly didn’t mix his words when questioned about Saturday’s performance; in fact he showed tremendous nerve in calling out players who he feels aren’t trying hard enough. This lack of passion and fight has really hurt us in recent year. How many players have sponged a living without really caring about the club whatsoever? Too many.

That’s what it’s all about. There’s certain players that are buying into the ideas and certain players that aren’t. If players are not willing to work hard for this shirt they can go somewhere else.

I’m not prepared to work with players who aren’t prepared to run, do the basics that millions would give their right arm to do. This is a group that is going to keep improving but there is a lot of work that has to be done. Players have to buy into it, and if they don’t buy into it then they won’t be here.

It’s not hard to fathom who Grayson is alluding to, but it is refreshing to hear those players being called out. The signings of McGeady and Vaughan may not be spectacular, yet those players will be desperate to prove their worth and will fight for our club. They are a welcome change from the gluttonous mercenaries here to line their pockets with no regard for the club, area or its fans.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Could Kone be one of those singled out for criticism?
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Predictions

Predicted XI: As with every pre-season game thus far, Grayson will be keen to experiment with the personnel available to him. Expect over 20 players to take to the pitch across the course of the game.

Score Prediction: You’d expect nothing less than a win form tomorrow’s game, and despite the fact that it’s only pre-season and the result means little in all honesty, Grayson will be hoping for a dominant performance from his men. I feel we’ll see a comfortable win, and I think Sunderland will take it 5-1. Vaughan, Maja and Asoro with the goals between them.