As I write this I’m in the car, on my way to the game, and the feeling of excitement that is filling me because I’m headed off on another away day has me looking even more forward to the season ahead - despite being incredibly hungover following on from Roker Report’s annual piss-up in Sunderland last night.
Short trips to places like Bradford are going to be the norm for now at least, and I’m honestly not overly fazed about the prospect of spending some time in the Championship. It’s a long time since I’ve felt this giddy about the start of a new campaign and despite uncertainty clouding us off the pitch, on it I just want to see us win some games and play some decent football - starting today at Valley Parade.
Tuesday’s performance against Hartlepool United gave those of us that were in attendance very little to feel excited about, and the hope today is that we can see signs of progress in our game with Stuart McCall’s Bradford City.
The most promising of all the Sunderland players that played on Tuesday evening was Jeremain Lens, a man many don’t expect will hang around for very much longer. Lens, along with Wahbi Khazri and Didier Ndong, didn’t start the game and was only introduced late on but until the trio entered the pitch it would be fair to say that there was very little between the two teams, despite Hartlepool being a non-league side nowadays.
Keeping that trio of players seems vitally important to any success that Grayson may have next season, but with transfers not exactly flying through it’s probably an accurate assumption that the new Sunderland manager is waiting on potential player sales before being fully able to strengthen his squad.
Today hopefully marks the first appearance in a Sunderland shirt of Aiden McGeady, who has yet to play any part in pre-season since arriving last week from Everton. Whilst he’s not exactly an unknown quantity, expectant Sunderland supporters are keen to see what the Republic of Ireland winger can do for us next season and even just a glimpse of the quality that he can bring today would give us some comfort that should Khazri or Lens leave in the coming weeks, we have a ready-made replacement there to take over their role within Grayson’s side.
The style in which Grayson has opted to play thus far in pre-season has resembled Rugby more than football but in the early games it’s merely a feeling out process and a fitness exercise for the players. Today, at Scunthorpe on Wednesday and then on Saturday when Celtic rock up to the Stadium of Light it would be beneficial to see some sort of pattern in how we’re going to play next season and whether or not Grayson’s team like to keep the ball on the floor. The evidence so far would suggest that we can expect quite the opposite.
All in all it’s important to not get too caught up in pre-season results and performances. That said, Bradford are tough opposition and it’s another chance for Sunderland’s young players to prove themselves to a manager that seems incredibly willing to afford them opportunities.
Robbin Ruiter - the former FC Utrecht ‘keeper that joined us on trial this week - is expected to play some part in today’s game in order to show Sunderland what he’s about and why we should offer him a permanent contract.
With five of Sunderland’s players completing ninety minutes at Hartlepool on Tuesday it’s probably a logical assumption that Grayson will ring the changes ahead of today’s game. Lamine Kone, George Honeyman, Lee Cattermole, Max Stryjek and Darron Gibson are expected to drop out, with the likes of Jeremain Lens, Didier Ndong, Mika and Wahbi Khazri hoping to start.
Brendan Galloway, Lynden Gooch and Jack Rodwell all missed our visit to Victoria Park through injury but could play some part today also, providing they pass late fitness checks. Bryan Oviedo, Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair remain longer-term absentees.
SAFC’s Starting XI: Ruiter, Galloway, Djilobodji, O’Shea, Love, Ndong, Rodwell, McGeady, Lens, Khazri, Vaughan.
Score: I think it’ll be another hard fought win. We’ve not won convincingly yet in pre-season and it would be nice if we could step up the energy a notch in order to prove to the supporters that we mean business, but it’s just a fitness game at the end of the day and we can’t expect too much from it. 3-2 to Sunderland.