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MATCH PREVIEW: Sunderland’s boss is expecting an improvement at Hartlepool after Darlington loss

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Whilst pre-season results ultimately mean very little, Jack Ross - and, perhaps, the near 3000 mackems that will be in attendance - are expecting to see some signs of improvement from the Sunderland players after the loss at Darlington on Tuesday.

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Our mini-tour of the north stops off this afternoon in the County Durham coastal town of Hartlepool, and with around 3000 Mackems expected to be in attendance it’s a chance for Jack Ross and his side to give a glimpse to those already doubting their quality of what they might be capable of once the League One season kicks off.

There’s no doubting that a loss to a non-league team is disappointing, but in reality it means very little. The game during the week at Blackwell Meadows with National League North side Darlington was, in truth, nothing more than a fitness exercise against a competitive group that will have undoubtedly helped with our mental and physical sharpness.

Today will, in all practicality, be more of the same. Ross will look to afford each of his first-team squad members a chance to build their fitness with one eye on the game this coming Tuesday at Grimsby Town.

So whatever happens today, just don’t take the result at the end too literally. Whether we win, lose or draw it really does not matter a great deal. That said, the thousands of Sunderland fans in attendance will be going there wishing to be entertained - so let’s hope that the Lads give them something to feel positive about.

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The Opposition...

Today will be an even sterner test than the one the players faced on Tuesday, and having had their own mini-ownership crisis over the summer it would appear that Hartlepool are starting to make some decent progress in the transfer market.

Former Sunderland youth players Louis Laing and Liam Noble are expected to be in the Pools squad today, perhaps hoping to show their former employers just where they went wrong in releasing them.

In the opposition dugout will be Matthew Bates, the former Middlesbrough central defender and captain who took over the reigns at Victoria Park towards the end of the season. He steered them just clear of relegation but now has his sights set on a promotion back to the Football League next summer.

Hartlepool United

The Gaffer Says...

It will be very much a reverse from Tuesday in terms of personnel.

The guys who only got 30 minutes will get the best part of an hour, but I think we need to be better in several aspects.

Our quality and our work out of possession [needs to improve], and these are things we only have a few days to prepare for.

We’re trying to get a lot of information across to the players in a short period of time, but they know as well as I know that Tuesday was a long way off of where need to be at for the first league game.

Saturday offers us another opportunity to take small steps forward.

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The Treatment Table...

Whilst Alim Ozturk left the field early at Darlington through injury, it’s not thought to be serious and he should play some part in today’s game.

Aiden McGeady still isn’t anywhere near ready to be playing, whilst Jon McLaughlin should start after missing out in midweek through a minor knock he sustained in pre-season training.

Duncan Watmore continues his rehabilitation from knee ligament surgery, and though he’s taking part in some lighter sessions with the first team he isn’t expected back until the autumn.

Other than that, it’s a clean bill of health.

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Where Can I Catch The Game?

Tickets for today will be available on the gate, and you can either sit up in the stands or stand on the terracing - one of the better aspects of watching football at Victoria Park.

Standing and seated tickets are available via separate turnstiles located at the Mill House Stand, and are priced at £10 for adults and £5 for over-60s and under-16s.

Alternatively, there will be FREE live audio provided on the club website by Nick Barnes, and you can tune in from around 2.30pm on SAFC.com.