The longest wait for a season curtain raiser since the Second World War finally came to an end on Saturday, in the form of a fairly woeful penalty shoot out defeat.
It was the first time Sunderland had kicked a ball competitively since that dismal 2-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers back in March but, despite losing to Hull City, there is optimism looking forward.
During the three preseason matches we were able to squeeze in, the rustiness of not playing in months began to fade. On Saturday this carried on further, in a game that was a good early test against a side we can expect to be in and around the top six come the end of the season.
Early on, it was clear that we perhaps had the edge in terms of fitness, and we went on to control the ball for large periods. We created plenty of chances, with the main concern being that none were put into the back of the net.
Hull were very much off the boil and their lack of game time during the short preseason was visible. They have the making of a very good squad and will no doubt improve dramatically once the marathon of the league season gets underway.
Despite the miss in the shootout, Will Grigg picked up where he left off in preseason in terms of intensity. In the four matches played so far, including the cup tie, Grigg looks just that bit more enthused about playing football. Perhaps even more importantly he has found the back of the net more than once. Strikers thrive on confidence and the best way to do this is to score goals.
If he can transfer goals against Gateshead and Carlisle into finding a way past Bristol Rovers, Oxford and Peterborough then we could finally start talking about Grigg as a productive member of the squad.
The only disappointing result yesterday would have been a convincing defeat. Any other result was always going to be acceptable and, in a match that was essentially an extension of pre-season for both sides, the squad was given a decent test and more vital minutes ahead of this Saturday’s league opener.
Falling at the first hurdle in this competition isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it is somewhat of a blessing. The 2020-21 season will be bizarre for many reasons, one of which is that it will be the most congested league fixture in recent history. For a club that needs to escape League One this season, and I emphasise the word ‘needs’, the last thing we need this season is having to cram in cup matches.
It is going to be an interesting season, and we will play far worse teams throughout the campaign than the Hull side which travelled to the Stadium of Light. We have lots to be optimistic about, and it’s now time for the players to prove they have what it takes to finally get us out of the third tier.