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NICK BARNES: Sunderland needed change - now we’ve got it, I’m looking forward to the season!

An overwhelming majority of those associated with Sunderland AFC can’t wait for the new season to start - and renowned BBC Newcastle commentator Nick Barnes is no exception! Here, in his first blog for, Nick looks ahead to what is sure to be an exciting campaign.

Barnesy’s blog - the monthly column of BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland match commentator Nick Barnes.

Thunder, lightning, wind and rain heralded what could have been interpreted as a metaphor for the upcoming season - for, as you know, covering Sunderland AFC is never dull.

From the maelstrom of Middlesbrough on Friday night emerged further evidence of the steady progress being made under Jack Ross - forty-five minutes which cemented Dylan McGeouch’s promise, and Sunderland’s ability to adapt when a tight hamstring forced his exit.

The much-feared repeat of the Celtic friendly before the start of last season never materialised - in fact, we saw quite the opposite. Looking back to last summer, this pre-season has highlighted just what a hotch-potch things were under the leadership of Simon Grayson.

An unbelievable lack of direction, purpose and positivity has been replaced with a plan - such a plain simple word, but one which packs punch when it works.

Nick Barnes via Twitter

Players who probably won’t be at the club in a few weeks’ time have been sidelined; those that remain have been embraced.

George Honeyman will wear the captain’s armband - is this a shrewd move to keep him on-board? Possibly, but there’s nothing wrong with that if it works.

Lee Cattermole has played. Some ask why if ideally the club should be rid of his wages, but there can be no doubting that Jack Ross knows he may still be here on August 9th - and he can’t risk another Jack Rodwell scenario. Cattermole could still have a role to play.

The issue of Financial Fair Play understandably lurks menacingly in the background, but if the likes of Kone, Ndong, Djilobodji and possibly Oviedo can be moved on then it becomes irksome rather than a handicap.

Jack Ross has set out his tactical stall and rotated the squad at his disposal, and that has refreshingly included a clutch of players from the Academy - most notably we’ve seen a fair bit of Bali Mumba and Benjamin Kimpioka, but Denver Hume has shone and Brandon Taylor has done a steady job at centre back.

Max Stryjek was solid in goal. Of course, it’s a far cry from the cut and thrust of League One, but with every pre-season match that passed and with every step up in quality, Sunderland stepped up to the plate - and have looked better with every outing.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There are still players to come in and the squad is starting to look more robust, though the need for a striker - or two - is still paramount.

Let’s remember this is League One, not the Premier League. While there has been a clamour for marquee signings and familiar names, when I speak to people connected to the likes of Hibs, Peterborough and Burton I hear nothing but gushing praise - though nothing that compares to the praise I heard for Jack Ross at St Mirren.

In Ross the club appears to have a manager who can make a mark on the game in England.

He’s ambitious, bright, personable and driven, and he has embarked on what will undoubtedly be a tough journey. Despite this, he carries himself with enthusiasm and optimism, undeterred by the seeming circus around him. His backroom staff come as highly regarded by all I have spoken to.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

What of that ‘circus’? I use the term loosely, more to encompass the spiraling rate of change the club has seen in a mere few months.

Sunderland have swooped from being a beleaguered, abandoned shell to a buoyant, buzzing playground - albeit not without pain in terms of job losses - all performed by an owner who has the boundless energy of a gazelle, and ambitions which have led some to label him a Walter Mitty.

So be it. But here he is, and he’s here to stay.

Change, I think everyone will agree, was much needed.

While some of his schemes may raise a few eyebrows - such as his desire to let everyone know what is going on, perhaps sometimes to the detriment of wisdom and undoubtedly to the frustration of the recruitment team - isn’t it better to have a hands-on, enthusiastic owner than an owner who is seen rarely and heard less?

The financial side of the club will quite rightly continue to cause concern, as I am sure it does for Stewart Donald, and until the books are balanced and the club turns a profit that will always be the case.

PA Images via Getty Images

Donald admits the club he has inherited is not quite the one that was advertised on the tin, but he is striving to address that. Consequently, the statements made over transfer budgets and ambition at the time of the takeover have had to be re-addressed, but it hasn’t hampered Jack Ross’s optimism as he fashions a team from the remnants.

It’s a good few seasons since I last approached the opening match with as much enthusiasm as I am for this one.

I approach League One as a safari - an exotic journey through English football, the sort that we lost having spent years struggling to survive in the Premier League. Forget the cheese room and micro-brewery of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - let’s embrace the pies and the Bovril of probably just about all the clubs in League One.

You’ll get a view of the outside world from most. Floodlight pylons – remember them? Terraces and terraces backing onto the terraces.

Yes, League One is changing too, with new grounds and clubs who have seen their own glory days, but this season finally feels like most fans are actually - dare I say - looking forward to it. I know that I am.

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