After an encouraging late victory away to Bury on Friday, Sunderland will look to carry on their positive form when they face Neil Lennon’s Hibernian side this afternoon in Edinburgh.
Simon Grayson was quick to point out before the last game that Thursday’s victory was little more than a training exercise that meant nothing in terms of footballing achievements. That being said, the 2-3 win against Bury will have filled Grayson and his squad with a genuine sense of optimism. To come back from two goals down and snatch a victory in the dying moments of the game is a positive result no matter the circumstances, and I’m sure that the Lads were just as pleased with the game as we were.
Today we go head go head with one of Scotland’s most historic clubs, but will they emerge victorious from what will certainly be a tough battle?
Neil Lennon’s side are tenacious and played some good football last season - they only lost three games in the league. Sunderland will be tested today, and as much as pre-season is all about building fitness and experimenting with tactics it would be nice to emerge victorious once more.
Josh Maja impressed last time out, and will be looking for a starting berth in order to further enhance his chances at staking a claim for the first team. His two goals against Bury wil have done wonders for both his confidence and that of his teammates too. Hopefully Maja is given a run out this afternoon with the intent of attempting to concrete a place of his own in the starting line-up this season.
Grayson faces a stubborn Hibernian side that will be a sterner test than Bury, and Lennon’s men will make the game a difficult affair. Utilising the pace and trickery of Wahbi Khazri proved imperative last time out, and it would be nice to see him given more time with Maja - a partnership that has looked effective in training as well as in the game against Bury.
With question marks hanging over the depth of the current squad, many fans will be looking ahead to seeing what the new gaffer will be able to concoct with such a threadbare squad. Speaking after Friday’s dramatic win, Grayson noted:
We pretty much got from it what I thought we would to be honest.
We’ve not had a chance to do too much work in terms of the team shape; there was some decent stuff at times and there was some poor stuff at times, but I don’t think it’s any different to what I think we needed to work on and what I we need to add to the squad. Ultimately, the players had a good attitude and worked hard, pre-season isn’t about winning matches but it can breed confidence and when you’ve not won for a long time it can certainly help with belief.
Grayson is managing expectations, but certainly appreciates the boost a win can bring. He remains keen to bolster his threadbare squad, but again today the youngsters will be given a chance to impress against a Hibs side who’ve lost a host of players of their own as Lennon tries to turn the Edinburgh-based side into a comfortable Scottish Premiership side.
Few injuries and several players returning from extended holidays means there is some greater depth in today’s side. O’Shea, Ndong, Embleton, Lens, Browning and Galloway could all play a part in the game and fans will be keen to see who will stand up and be counted.
Predicted XI: Loads of changes and that - who knows who will start?
Score: 2-1 Sunderland - Easter Road is an intimidating place, but I think Sunderland will be able to dominate proceedings and emerge 2-1 winners. Gibson looked very sharp the other night along with Khazri and Maja, so here’s hoping that Grayson can guide the lads onto another win in the Scottish capital.