This is where the talking stops, the endless inane transfer gossip can cease and you can finally desist on your daily Twitter arguments about Marcus Maddison.
Sunderland welcome Oxford United to the Stadium of Light - and you better believe everyone is goddamn hyped. We’ve got new faces like Jordan Willis and George Dobson... and sweaty old faces, like Grant Leadbitter.
No more than three points will do for an expectant Wearside as Jack Ross’s men look to race away to 100 points and promotion back to the Championship.
Jack Ross Says...
On the start of a new season:
I’m feeling good. It doesn’t change when you’re involved in football, everyone looks forward to starting a season and the fresh challenge it brings.
We’ve got a lot of games in August - seven, potentially eight games - which is a lot.
Our home record was good last season and if we can turn some of them draws to wins, we only lost once at home so that was good and we want to match that again next season, so it starts on Saturday.
On George Honeyman’s departure:
I spoke to George last night and sometimes you have to make big decisions.
For George, it was a busy day, a lot for him to process.
It was a surprise, we didn’t think anything was imminent or on the horizon.
Although we feel a lot more stable this summer you will get these bumps along the way.
Jack Ross seems to have kept his cards close to his chest when it comes to his opening day starting line-up. The manager has been experimenting with personnel in the final two warm-up games but he looks to have settled on a back three which should see new signings Jordan Willis and Conor McLaughlin make their debuts.
It is in midfield where Ross has a tricky decision to make with Max Power, Grant Leadbitter, Dylan McGeouch, George Dobson are vying for a starting berth while Ethan Robson is unavailable due to injury. In attack, with Charlie Wyke ruled out with an ankle knock, Will Grigg is expected to lead the line.
Aiden McGeady could play a part on Saturday despite missing a chunk of pre-season with a foot injury sustained at Accrington Stanley in April. Should McGeady fail to make the first XI it will provide an opportunity for Duncan Watmore, Lyden Gooch, Chris Maguire and youngster Embleton to claim a spot behind Grigg.
As with most opening day starting line-ups, there are bound to be one or two surprises when three o’clock rolls around.
View from the opposition
Oxford United ended the 2018/19 campaign on a high, winning seven of their last ten and manager Karl Robinson will want to carry this form into the new campaign. The U’s have had a busy summer bringing in seven players as well as tying Robinson down to a new three-year contract.
Among the new recruits is highly rated Liverpool youngster Ben Woodburn. The 19-year-old, who memorably scored on his international debut for Wales, was previously linked with a move to Sunderland during Chris Coleman’s reign. After a disappointing loan spell at Sheffield United, a lot is expected of Woodburn during his time at the Kassam.
Oxford have also welcomed former Sunderland midfielder Alex Gorrin and Rotherham United forward Anthony Forde to their ranks, but how much the loss of Gavin Whyte will affect them remains to be seen. The Northern Irish winger was a big part of Oxford’s resurgence last season scoring seven goals in 36 appearances which attracted the attention of Cardiff City who have handed over a cool £2 million.
Robinson’s side proved a difficult nut for Sunderland to crack last year with both games finishing 1-1, although so did most Sunderland games.
Venue: Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Referee: Peter Wright
Last season position: 12th
Pre-season results (SAFC)
South Shields (A) 2-0
Benfica B (N) 0-0
Belenenses (N) 0-1
Heerenveen (H) 0-1
Pre-season results (OUFC)
Rangers (A) 0-5
Oxford City (A) 5-3
Thame United (A) 2-0
Brackley Town (A) 2-1
Woking (A) 1-1
Eastleigh (A) 0-0
Queens Park Rangers (H) 1-2
Fulham (H) 1-1
Solihull Moors (A) 1-1
Sunderland at home on opening day
2018/19 (L1) Sunderland 2-1 Charlton Athletic (Maja, Gooch)
2017/18 (CH) Sunderland 1-1 Derby County (Grabban)
2013/14 (PL) Sunderland 0-1 Fulham
2010/11 (PL) Sunderland 2-2 Birmingham City (Bent, Carr OG)
2008/09 (PL) Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool
The U’s on Wearside
01 Sep 2018 (L1) Sunderland 1-1 Oxford United (Wyke)
19 Sep 1998 (D1) Sunderland 7-0 Oxford United (Bridges 2, Gray, Dichio 2, Rae 2)
02 Sep 1997 (D1) Sunderland 3-1 Oxford United (Phillips, Beauchamp og, Melville)
26 Apr 1994 (D1) Sunderland 2-3 Oxford United (P. Gray, Armstrong)
09 Feb 1993 (D1) Sunderland 2-0 Oxford United (Goodman, M. Gray)
Top goalscorers (18/19)
15 - James Henry
9 - Marcus Browne (now at West Ham)
9 - Gavin Whyte (now at Cardiff City)
7 - Jamie Mackie
6 - Cameron Barragan
Last Time We Met
Sunderland’s visit to a bitterly cold Kassam Stadium in early-February was the first moment a lot of supporters thought “hmm, might not be going up, here”. Following the pattern of a lot of Sunderland matches during the 2018/19 campaign, the Lads went put ahead thanks to a Jimmy Dunne (look forward to him being a Sporcle answer in years to come) header.
Despite the mounting pressure, a killer second goal never arrived and a Jerome Sinclair-inspired (another one for your Sporcle quizzes in 2023) U’s side rallied and inevitably equalised through a late Marcus Browne goal.
It marked a devastatingly delicious run of six 1-1 draws in eight games - now that is League One football, baby!