Takeover completed, new manager installed, old seats replaced (well... some), pre-season finished, new team ready. It’s been a busy summer at Sunderland AFC, with all that are involved deeply engrossed in preparing the club for it’s first season in England’s third tier since 1987.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been here - the first time for many fans.
After back-to-back relegations there’s some positivity back in the old place, and today’s game against a memorable foe provides the perfect backdrop for our recovery.
The Gaffer says...
Well, I think first of all, it’s a really tough opening game for us when you look at the teams that filled the top positions in the table last year, it’s a team that obviously reached the playoffs and a big club as well. Probably that has went through some sort of turbulent period in recent times and they’ve also had injuries to contend with during pre-season.
So, there’s a little bit of synergy between the two clubs in that respect, the one difference being that they obviously enjoyed a relatively successful period season last year and we didn’t. So, I think it’s a tough game for us and I would imagine that they’re a club who believe that they will challenge again in those automatic or playoff spots. Aside from that, we’re quite thorough in our work and our preparation in terms of dealing with the opposition and that’s been new for me because normally when I’m doing that I’ve been very familiar with the players I’m looking at. So, I’ve had to educate myself in that respect, but we’ve worked hard to be as well prepared as we can, not just for this game but for every game moving forward.
I must admit, for me, I’m actually looking forward to it in that respect because although I’ve watched a lot of footage and I’ve seen a lot of games and looked at bits and pieces, it’s very difficult for me to gauge properly the test we’ll have from oppositions until I see them on the pitch against them. So, in that respect, Saturday will help me.
Jon McLaughlin has been signed to be our new number one and, at last, we have someone to fill Jordan Pickford’s boots... or gloves. It feels an age since we had a decent custodian, although, in truth, it is just over twelve months.
If pre-season is anything to go by, Adam Matthews and Donald Love are favourites to line up in the full-back positions, despite the return to the club of World Cup star, Bryan Oviedo.
Glenn Loovens will be our first choice centre-half today. Alongside him will either Jack Baldwin or Alim Öztürk, as Tom Flanagan is out for a couple of weeks.
In midfield, Dylan McGeough is likely to miss out and will be a big loss, particularly after his displays during pre-season. But this is a long season and there is no need to risk a key member of the first team this early in the campaign. Hopefully McGeough’s absence will draw attention to Luke O’Nien - a young man already making an impact off the pitch. If he can translate that to on-field performances, we should have some player on our hands.
There are likely to be some familiar faces mixed with the new, as Lee Cattermole, Ethan Robson, Lynden Gooch, Josh Maja and new skipper George Honeyman are all pushing for starts against Charlton. They will have the company of former Bury man, Chris Maguire, with loanee Jerome Sinclair another option in the forward line.
Whoever gets the nod, we’re likely to see the Lads play on the front-foot in a 4-2-3-1 formation today.
Much was made of Lyle Taylor’s decision earlier in the summer to choose today’s opponents over a switch to the Stadium of Light. Geography, rather than money, which may be a commendable decision. Sunderland have brought in Charlie Wyke instead, and that may prove to be the best choice for the club. Taylor has been a doubt to play for the Addicks today, although don’t be surprised if Lee Bowyer risks him.
Charlton are down to the bare bones, with some big names missing. Billy Clarke, Anfernee Dijksteel, Tariqe Fosu, Ben Reeves and Igor Vetokele are all reported as injured, and now Jake Foster-Caskey has reportedly damaged his ACL, ending his season before it’s begun.
The Treatment Table...
Reece James, Aiden McGeady and Duncan Watmore have missed pre-season and won’t feature for another few weeks. Joining them this week is Tom Flanagan, Dylan McGeough and new signing Charlie Wyke, who arrived having picked up an injury playing for Bradford in pre-season.
Otherwise, it’s a clean bill of health and Ross has a number of options in most, if not all, positions. A nice problem to start the season with.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Almost 30,000 tickets have already been sold for Sunderland’s opening game, whilst cash turnstiles will be in operation at the Stadium Of Light.
Turnstiles 45 and 46 will be available in the east stand and 31 and 32 in the Carling north stand, with adult tickets only.
There will be live audio provided on the club website by Nick Barnes, and you can tune in from around 12pm on SAFC.com.
The game is also live on Sky Sports Football from 12pm.
We’ll also be providing live commentary via our Twitter page and, after the game, there’ll be a match report and player ratings article on the site - so keep an eye out for that.