Football is nearly back!
Football has been on for weeks now, with the Premier League restart and obviously European competition providing us with plenty to sink our teeth into. And while that is all well and good, I think I speak for many of us when I say it’s just not the same as watching your own team cross the white line and disappoint us.
Ideally I would spend some time here romantically describing the Saturday routine. Meeting your mates in the pub, the walk across Wearmouth Bridge and eventually sitting alongside thousands of other crazy people who are sworn to support Sunderland AFC, but unfortunately we won’t have that chance for a little while yet.
Despite that the new season always brings great optimism and being able to get behind the lads again, even though it will be from home, and watching them take on the might of League One is something I am looking forward to. “But why exactly?” I hear you ask, “the club is a shambles, we haven’t got a full squad yet, and we’re being stalked by a beardy weirdo with an energy drink in his hand!” Well I’m glad you asked, allow me to explain.
Young players look like getting a chance
I have long been a supporter of Elliot Embleton.
I think his exploits for the England youth sides speak for themselves, he is so good with his weak foot that he can take corners with either one and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, he can score worldies when given the chance and, most importantly, he has the intelligence, vision and passing ability to create chances by splitting defences.
When you have a striker like Will Grigg, those sorts of killer passes into the box, through the channels are priceless, and here we have a lad who can do it. All he needs to prove now is his fitness and the ability to do great things for us consistently. If he can do that then I think he could be a crucial player for us this season.
The other young lad I want to highlight is Jack Diamond. He has returned to us fresh off an incredible season for Harrogate Town where he was a regular recipient of Man of the Match awards (including one in the play off final where he also scored) and has clearly worked on his body and fitness. Of course, he still has something to prove at this level and the likes of Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire and even Embleton may be ahead of him in the pecking order right now for his preferred position out on the wing.
However, during pre-season Phil Parkinson has had him operating as a wing back, and if he can adapt then his pace and drive could be a huge asset for us.
Will Grigg is warming up
This is a really optimistic one but Will Grigg is looking fitter, he’s looking healthier and if this team can provide him some chances then he could just be massive for us this season.
Now, I know that if you said that to me at the start of the year I would have laughed out loud - because Grigg looked a shadow of the player he was supposed to be when we signed him - but I think that was down to a very difficult adjustment period which is now at an end.
In pre-season he has looked sharp, he’s scored and hopefully he’s a lot happier now as well. As I have already mentioned, the passing ability of Elliot Embleton should compliment Grigg’s style well, and if he’s up against a defence that aren’t allowing that sort of play then we have Wyke to come in and affect the game either in replacement of Grigg, or alongside him.
New signing Aiden O’Brien has played a few minutes for us in pre-season, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in as well once the new season gets underway.
All in all, I suspect that this could be a really positive season for Will Gullick.
The fans will return
I think the absence of fans at the start of this season will be a good thing.
Because we’re going to play a good few games with no fans, that gives the players time to make mistakes and learn from them without succumbing to pressure from the home crowd.
Now, what I’m definitely not saying is that the home crowd is responsible for any of the poor form shown in recent years - in fact I’d argue things would be a lot worse without us. What I am saying, though, is that the lads can develop good habits and learn how to respond properly to their mistakes on the pitch as the only voices they will hear will be their teammates, and the feeling of letting down a live crowd of 30,000 simply won’t exist.
Hopefully what that will mean is by the time the crowds do return, we’ll have a group of players completely confident in their ability and capable of bouncing back regardless of whatever mistakes they make in front of the home crowd.
Take our new goalkeeper Remi Matthews, for example. The mistake he made against Carlisle led to a goal, and yes it was only pre-season, so it probably wouldn’t have affected him anyway, but imagine how much worse he might have felt about it in front of the noisy Stadium of Light crowd.
My hope is that by the time fans do return we’ll have strong characters capable of taking a bit of stick when they make a mistake, because they believe they have the ability to put it right for those fans.
These are but a few reasons to be optimistic for the new season, and I have faith that over the next few weeks we’ll be given even more to get excited about. It’s been a long, tough summer, so I hope you’ll forgive me for a moment of happy-clapping.