Q: How much can we read into Sunderland’s pre-season results and performances?
Michael Graham says...
It’s a question that comes up every single summer but the answer is ultimately dependent upon your own personal preconceptions.
Last season, for example, I remember being told that the 6-0 whopping of St Mirren meant nothing by the more negative-minded supporters, most of which are now telling me that this summer’s sparsity of friendly wins is a clear indicator we are in trouble.
Personally, for me, pre-season will always be about fitness first and foremost and then it’s a great chance to blood some youngsters. Jordan Henderson staked his claim back in the day during a pre-season, Josh Maja did the same last summer, and hopefully Elliot Embleton has this year.
In addition to all that, make no mistake about it that Aidan McGeady is once again going to be the key attacking figure for Sunderland this season, so I’m not sure how much we can read into friendlies played without him.
Then there is yet another layer of uncertainty added by the fact that opposition teams will be setting up entirely differently against us during the season than they have been over the summer, so the actual challenges being faced will also be different.
All in all, I just don’t attach any importance to pre-season results at all. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying early-season form, never mind pre-season form, is all that definitive. Luton were in 12th place after 10 games last season, while the top four consisted entirely of teams who failed to win promotion. It’s all about peaking at the right time, as Charlton proved better than anyone.
Ultimately, summer football should just be about having a few beers in the sun and not worrying about results, so why people try to create stress for themselves over it instead is completely beyond me!
Craig Davies says...
Maybe it’s an age thing (which I find most things are these days).
After the vast volume of mediocre pre-seasons I’ve witnessed that were certain to ensue disaster and never did, or the mass magnitude of great summer performances that only ever brought false dawns and bland football, I don’t put much, if any value, into pre-season results or performances.
The social media posts calling for Jack Ross’s head or gleefully looking forward to his footballing execution, based on a few games organised primarily for fitness and for blooding promising youngsters, have frankly been embarrassing. Pathetic even.
I’m not a huge Ross fan by any means. Not at all. He’s yet to convince me of his tactical genius, but to prematurely ejaculate your impatient footballing load before a ball has been kicked in the league and call for his public flogging means your bar for sporting satisfaction is far too high! You’re never going to be happy. And I suppose some fans never are, especially if you’re using a few kicks-abouts in the sun as a barometer of success or failure for the oncoming year.
Embleton has great shown promise and the new recruits are bedding in nicely, with glimpses of potential from them. Yes, Ross must find the key to unlock whatever magic (if any) that exists between Grigg and Wyke, but McNulty may just provide the competition and spark that propels them into significant action.
I can see Grigg making way for McNulty if he can’t move from pedestrian lethargy to bombastic action-man pretty damn quickly, but time will tell. And this is what the squad with it’s new recruits needed. Time - and that’s what pre-season is.
Time to gather thoughts, time to prepare, time to make early mistakes, time to iron out the creases, time to blood youngsters and time to welcome and bed in new signings in a less intense atmosphere where progress and fitness, rather than the result are the key.
So get the drinks in. Clean the BBQ just in case the sun pops back out and relax with friends. Forget about pre-season, because come Oxford at home in a few days time we won’t be relaxing at all for about nine months. Squeeze the joy in while you can.
Mark Carrick says...
There is a clear aim to pre-season in terms of fitness, integrating new players, tinkering with formations and, hopefully, instilling a mentality within the squad. Results become secondary, even performances when new ideas are being tested out.
In terms of those aims, pre-season will have achieved its aims. For fans, though, signs of improvement are all that really matter.
Has Player X added to the team? Has the new formation worked or not? Is the defence keeping clean sheets and, perhaps most importantly of all, are the strikers brimming with confidence and scoring at will?
So, from a fans’ perspective, these measures are far more limited. Whilst Conor McLaughlin has looked a good signing, Jordan Willis seems to be settling in and George Dobson’s cameo suggests good things to come, Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke haven’t shown enough to suggest we are going to bulldoze teams, even with a tighter defence and new midfield personnel.
Has Ross’ three at the back become a sign of intent or will we revert to a back four against Oxford and pre-season has simply been identifying a Plan B?
It appears Ross has previous with the new formation. Recruitment seems to have targeted players to play that way, so let’s hope pre-season is more about building confidence. If we can get the balance right then results will follow when the team feels most comfortable with the tactics.
Time will tell, but I hope Ross is braver this year, looking to play a style that attempts to win football matches and is not a safe option in avoiding defeat. Drawing so many cost us last season. If that lesson hasn’t been learned, I doubt he’ll last the year out.
However, the squad looks more than capable of moving some of those draws into the win column, if only Ross is bold enough.... and we find Grigg’s shooting boots.