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Lincoln City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 1st Leg

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Editorial: Balancing expectation with Sunderland’s current squad is a tough gig

It’s tough expecting a successful season with our current transfer activity and the current squad numbers - so the next few weeks will tell us all we need to know.

Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Now the distraction of the Euros is over, the one cloud obscuring the view of Sunderland’s transfer activity so far along with the make-up of our current squad has lifted and come into full view.

As we’d finished dissecting last season on the end of season Roker Rapport Podcast following the Lincoln semi-final second leg in May, we moved on to briefly speculate how we thought the summer might pan out.

My thoughts we that we’d have a completely different outlook in terms of the way Lee Johnson would want us to set up, and that to do this we would need ideally need to have at least the nucleus of his squad together as we began our planned pre-season friendlies.

As it stands, we have at my count, 19 players who I’d consider to be part of a first-team squad - that includes Dan Neil, Benji Kimpioka plus one of Jacob Carney or Anthony Patterson as a second goalkeeper - who all aren’t expected to have a huge part to play this coming season.

Sunderland v Heerenveen Pre-Season Friendly
Will Benji Kimpioka have a part to play this season?
Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It also includes Jordan Willis and Arbenit Xhemajli, who are recovering from long term injuries and it remains to be seen when they might be able to return to action, as well as Denver Hume and Will Grigg, who are question marks to still be at the club come the opening day of the season.

Taking those question marks out of the equation leaves us with around 12 players, so it doesn’t take a genius to know we need bodies. This would be true regardless but the club have also penciled in a friendly against Heart of Midlothian at Tynecastle this Saturday.

The Edinburgh club kicked off their current campaign last weekend with a 2-0 victory in the Premier Sports Cup (Scottish League Cup) and at the time of writing play during the week leading up to our visit against Cove Rangers, also in the Premier Sports Cup, in their lead up to their season opener - scheduled exactly two weeks after facing us - at home to Celtic.

Robbie Neilson’s side will be ahead of Sunderland in terms of their preparation ahead of the new season, and with the availability of streaming this weekend, it will be interesting to see how many of the younger players we will need to take to the field and how they fare.

Sunderland v Aston Villa U21: EFL Trophy
Will Arbenit Xhemajl get back to full fitness before this season gets underway?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

This current situation is difficult to accept against, not only when comparing to the business of other promotion hopefuls such as Wigan and Ipswich, but when we attempt to line it up against the expectation we have for the coming season.

The first summer for a new owner, new structure and a manager to put their vision into place and we expected big things and after the whole discussion around preparation on their appointment why shouldn’t we have expected they were ready to make their move in the market early?

This makes it even more difficult to draw that line from our current squad to the expectation we have to gain promotion this season, the two don’t tally and it can be frustrating, but as we saw this week with the signing of Alex Pritchard, things can move fast with a move nobody expected.

When we face Hearts, we still have four friendlies and three weeks until we kick-off our fourth successive League One campaign at the Stadium of Light against Wigan Athletic, we’re all expecting it to be busy with new players arriving at the club - and the signing of Alex Pritchard suggests there might be one or two we weren’t expecting.

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Danny Graham was a late signing last summer to boost our forward options
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

We’ve been guilty in the past of the obvious signings, the Danny Graham’s of the world who were aging free agents and would be an extra player on the books, knowing full well it was unlikely he’d be a fixture in the starting XI and make a substantial difference to our season.

If we were heading down that route we’d have probably got in four or five by now, but to what cost? Do we just want players or do we want the right players? Doing the deals early doesn’t guarantee they’re right for the club and neither does sealing them late on in our preparation, so other than bringing them in before the season opener it’s more of a question of ‘who’ than ‘when’.

I stand by saying that in an ideal world Lee Johnson would have had more time to prepare for the new season with the majority of his squad in place, but the better quality of player we recruit the less impact that will have.

We’ve still got around three weeks until we welcome Max Power and Charlie Wyke back to the Stadium of Light, and we’re all expecting it to be busy, and I’m going to see where we stand on the 7th August before drawing that line with our expectation.


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