Here we are again, less than a day away from the start of a new season.
It’s the time where players and fans of clubs from the Premier League to Sunday League believe anything is possible. All the teams are level on zero points - everyone has that hint of hope and belief that they could do the impossible and win their respective leagues. Phrases like “If we have a good start then….” and “If Leicester can do it…” stir quietly in our heads with blind positivity - but why does it seem to be different for Sunderland?
For many fans, the bitter disappointment of a fifth place finish and two Wembley heartaches has crept into the build up to this season, with the same fingers pointed towards negative tactics, inability to score and lack of pace in the build-up.
Some of this may well be true and football is a game of opinions, but is the disappointment of coming so close last time round making us forget that actually we are in a great position compared to last year.
Rewind back just thirteen short months to the end of June 2018. Jack Ross had only been in post for four weeks and turned up at the AoL to start pre-season training; but with only a handful of players reporting back he had to make up the numbers in the first week with academy players and coaching staff.
Want-away players with dubious attitudes were rife at the club. The soap opera off the field undoubtedly took precious focus and attention away from Ross being able to prepare for Sunderland’s new era and with it, a totally unique transfer policy - get numbers in.
Fast forward to this summer - friends are reunited, numbers nearly full and most importantly there are smiles on faces. Even those that probably would like a move away from the club are rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in.
Signings are no longer about getting numbers in; it’s adding the final touches to the squad to get those extra 7/8 points needed to win a league. Willis, McLaughlin, McNulty and Dobson are signings we know a little more about and could state with a little more certainty that they are definitive “squad improvers”.
We might have lost Cattermole, Honeyman and Oviedo but even the manner in which they left was positive and filled with gratitude and best wishes.
A lot has been made of the fact that goals have been in short supply this pre-season, but we’ve played top-flight sides in Belenenses and Heerenveen - two tough teams who we ran fairly close. As Jack Ross himself admitted, however, there’s very little worth taking from these games as they’re merely fitness and training exercises to help the manager get his squad together for the start of the season.
Last year our preparations were rushed, and we started the season completely unprepared. Yet, the lads managed two Wembley finals, were seven points away from automatic promotion and 30 seconds away from extra time and penalties in the play-off final - in spite of all the turbulence, all the negativity, the player turnover, the lack of preparation and the pre-season results from the preceding summer.
This time round we are better prepared, with a better and more settled squad.
Yes, last season was bitterly disappointing, yes it built up our hopes and brought us crashing down, but take a step back and look at how we are shaping up before the opening fixture against Oxford compared to Charlton at the SoL 12 months ago.
We are coming back… fitter, stronger and better prepared - get behind the lads and look how far we have come in 12 months. This is the year we start moving upwards having hit out lowest point, but all it needs is a little positivity… and all that needs is a little perspective.
H’away the Lads!