Sunderland face Gateshead on Saturday at the International Stadium, in their first match of the 2020/21 pre-season campaign. Phil Parkinson will be forced to include many academy players in his squad, as the club have only made two signings during the transfer window so far.
Gateshead have already begun their pre-season fixtures, and played their last competitive fixture in late July. It will be Sunderland’s first official game since losing 2-0 to Bristol Rovers all the way back in March.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Gateshead fan David Gaddess from the Heed Army podcast, to discuss what Parkinson’s team can expect during the friendly.
MC: Gateshead finished 7th in the National League North last season via points-per-game. before being defeated 5-3 by Boston in the playoffs - what are your expectations for the club this season?
DG: I think finishing in the playoff positions has to be a realistic target for the coming season, especially since we have kept most of last season’s squad.
MC: Former Newcastle defender Mike Williamson has been player-manager of the Heed for over one year now, how did he perform in his debut campaign in management?
DG: Mike is one of those characters in football who never seems to get flustered on or off the pitch. He is calm and collected, and has a clear plan for the way he wants his Gateshead team to play. His first season as player-manager was very enjoyable to watch.
MC: Aiden O’Brien is expected to make his debut Sunderland; have Gateshead made any new signings who are likely to feature on Saturday?
DG: The arrival or return of Macaulay Longstaff could be a key signing this year, he was a hot prospect who left the club in search of first-team football with York. He returns a more experienced attacker.
MC: Gateshead begun their pre-season campaign with a 1-1 draw against Carlisle, as well as playing two play-off matches last month - do you think your squad will have a fitness advantage over a Sunderland team that has not played since March?
DG: With Gateshead being full time and having already returned to action last month we should be sharp, but with trial players getting a run out it is difficult to predict how we will do. Our recent 1-1 draw with Carlisle was an encouraging result.
MC: Suffering from inadequate ownership is something both Sunderland and Gateshead fans have in common, have things improved at the club since the most recent takeover?
DG: Massively, with a heavy fan presence at board level the club now feels like the club of old and maybe even better.
MC: Lynden Gooch will return to the Gateshead International Stadium for the first time since his successful loan spell in 2015, do you think the two clubs should work together with loaning players more often?
DG: We have had many loan players from the big three North East clubs over the past decade. Sunderland and Middlesbrough have had the most players who have done well at Gateshead, before going back to feature in their club’s first-teams.
Ainsley Pears for example went on to be first-choice for much of last season at Boro. As long as the loan player has the right attitude the loans normally work well for both parties.
MC: What style of play can Phil Parkinson’s men expect to come up against from Gateshead?
DG: Gateshead play very good passing football with an attacking mentality.
MC: Who are the eleven players you are expecting Williamson to select against Sunderland?
DG: It is difficult to predict a particular eleven due to how many players we have on trial, but we will likely use a 5-3-2 or 5-2-3 formation.
MC: Lastly, what is your honest prediction of the final score on Saturday?
DG: As long as we give a good account of ourselves I will be happy, but I am predicting a 3-1 score line.