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Match Preview: ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL IS BACK IN SUNDERLAND, BABY! Bring it on, Heerenveen...

Just when you had gotten used to those carefree weekends free from the crushing disappointment of association football to ruin it, guess what’s happening this evening in Sunderland? ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL, BABY!

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SC Heerenveen v FC Groningen - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Cees van Hoogdalem/Soccrates/Getty Images

Sunderland are back in town and they’re wrapping up their pre-season program by welcoming Dutch heavyweights SC Heerenveen to the Stadium of Light. Following in the footsteps of classic home friendlies such as Daryl Murphy scoring against Juventus, Kevin Ball missing a penalty in his own testimonial and being battered into oblivion by Celtic, the visit of De Superfriezen will no doubt have pulses racing on Wearside.

Jack Ross’ gorgeous boys have had a mixed pre-season (if you’re one of these people that think friendly results mean anything) but can certainly whet the appetite for the kick-off against Oxford United by putting the Eredivise’s eleventh best side to the sword.


Jack Ross Says...

On the tour of Portugal:

We are trying to implement a system that enables us to play with a more creative edge to our game. We have got a lot of good players in forward areas and on Saturday I was pleased with their efforts.

You can see what he can provide in the final third, so I was pleased with that. What we wanted to get from the game in terms of a challenge was there, but from what we’ve seen from what we’ve worked in was really pleasing.

On new signing Marc McNulty:

Marc arrives with a wealth of experience in the EFL and an impressive goalscoring record. He understands the expectation that comes with playing for a club of this size, and he is ready to work hard and embrace that challenge.

I’m sure he will be a valuable addition to the squad and have a big impact over the course of the 2019-20 season.

On new signing George Dobson:

George has been on our radar for a while, so I’m delighted we were able to finalise a deal and bring him to the football club.

He’s still young, but he is an experienced player with over 100 senior games under his belt, and throughout his career he has demonstrated quality, maturity and leadership.

I’m confident he will thrive under the pressure that comes with playing for Sunderland and become an even better player in the process.

Benfica B v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Team News

New signings Marc McNulty and George Dobson are expected to be involved against Heerenveen, while it will be the first opportunity for many supporters to see fellow newbies Lee Burge, Conor McLaughlin and Jordan Willis in action.

Saturday’s starting line-up may be an indication as to what system and personnel Jack Ross will deploy against Oxford United. During pre-season, the manager has been experimenting with a 3-4-2-1 formation utilising wing-backs to provide some extra attacking options.

Youngsters Elliot Embleton, Ethan Robson and Ruben Sammut are expected to play a prominent part against the Dutch side. Fresh from signing a new contract, Embleton has been impressing coaching staff and supporters alike and he will no doubt see the Heerenveen game as another chance to stake a claim for a starting role against Oxford.

McNulty’s arrival will allow Ross to tinker with the forward line and provide a different option to Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke.

Duncan Watmore’s encouraging pre-season will also give hope that he can finally kick on during the forthcoming campaign. Whether winger Aiden McGeady will play a part against Heerenveen remains to be seen.

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Marc McNulty Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Who Are Yer?

Formed in 1920, Sportclub Heerenveen hail from the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands. They were initially the big dawgs of the region, despite having the inconvenience of being occupied by Nazi Germany. However, when Adolf and the like bottled it at the end of World War II, v.v. Heerenveen added six North of the Netherlands titles to their already accrued three.

Much of Heerenveen’s early success was down to the boot of Abe Lenstra. The expertly coiffured local lad spent 18 years at De Superfriezen, whacking in a casual 523 goals in 500 games. Lenstra’s legacy is felt across Heerenveen with the club naming both incarnations of their stadium after the prolific striker.

Since the reign of Lenstra, Heervenveen’s achievements will probably not hit the radar of many English football supporters. Despite their 2009 KNVB Cup victory, beating Steve McClaren’s FC Twente in the final, and finishing second in the 1999/2000 Eredivisie, the main thing many passing fans might know about this institution of Dutch football is their strip.

SC Heerenveen v Excelsior - Dutch Eredivisie Photo by Soccrates/Getty Images

I would love to be able to tell you that there is a quirky story about why Heervenveen don a blue and white jersey pebble dashed with love hearts. I would love to be able to tell that it is due to the romantic nature of all the residents of Friesland or that it is a place that celebrates Valentine’s Day unlike anywhere in the world.

Alas, it is just the flag of the province and the heart-looking shapes are actually water lilies which “should not be heart-shaped”, so that’s you told.

Heerenveen also helped to mould the careers of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Lasse Schone and Middlesbrough legend Afonso Alves (45 goals in 39 games, boyos). Their current manager, Johnny Jansen, doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Dutch Eredivisie”Ajax v SC Heerenveen”

Heerenveen in England

Unlike many of their Dutch counterparts, Heervenveen do not have the most illustrious history in European football. They were last seen getting bantered out of a Europa League play-off by Norwegian side Molde in 2012. However, they have had their run-ins with English opposition over the years.

An encounter with West Ham in the 1999 Intertoto Cup (lol, remember that?) saw a rosy-cheeked Frank Lampard and Derby County legend Paulo Wanchope plop them out of over two legs. It wasn’t until 2004 when they would grace these shores again, meeting out friendly neighbours to the north.

Despite advancing through the group stages, and led by a young Huntelaar, Newcastle were actually good back then and put the Dutch side to bed beating them 4-2 on aggregate. Their last sighting on British soil was being humiliated by Tony Adams’ Portsmouth in the UEFA Cup group stage as a Peter Crouch brace and a Herman Hreidarsson last-minute effort sent them packing.

Soccer - UEFA Cup - Group E - Portsmouth v Heerenveen - Fratton Park Photo by Tony Marshall - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Where Can I Watch It?

Tickets are still on sale priced at £10 for adults and £5 for concessions and can be bought here. Cash turnstiles will also be in operation on the East Stand 37-40.

There is also a pre-match talk-in with chairman Stewart Donald at Quinn’s Sports Bar. Hosted by the Wise Men Say podcast, Stewy will be there to answer all your pressing questions about the campaign ahead.

The whole thing kicks off at 5.30pm with tickets - which include a match ticket and hot food - priced at £30 and available by calling 0191 551 5117 or emailing hospitality@safc.com.