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Port Vale v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round

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Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: Lee Johnson’s Sunderland team deserve some credit

I can’t remember the last time the Sunderland players looked as prepared for a new season as they do right now - and for that, Lee Johnson and his coaching team deserve credit.

Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Sunderland have started the season in precisely the style that I expected, so I’m not even surprised.

Please don’t take that as me jumping too far ahead, though - I’m purely looking at the way that we seem to have just got on with our business in the same way we did throughout pre-season, except now these performances actually mean something.

Two games in, two wins - that’s all we can ask for, really.

Whilst the craziness of our lack of pre-season transfer business hung over the club like a big black cloud, on the training ground and on the grass, Lee Johnson and his side just got on with their jobs and ensured that they were as prepared for what was to come as they could possibly be.

Everything just seems to have clicked, which is weird for us.

Young players eager to impress have actually driven standards up, which isn’t usual for a club like ours, given that in the almost twenty years since the Academy opened we have never really taken our best youngsters seriously as first-team squad members.

Port Vale v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

I guess that’s a result of the sheer volume of them that have been introduced into the setup - Anthony Patterson, Jack Diamond, Josh Hawkes, Elliot Embleton, Ellis Taylor, Oliver Younger and Dan Neil have all acquitted themselves magnificently, and have shown their senior counterparts that they’re going to push hard to steal their places.

Someone recently made a fantastic point to me about young players that I hadn’t previously considered.

All young professionals have dreams and aspirations of making it to the Premier League - which makes them a huge asset if managed correctly.

They’ll be energetic in training, positive in their interactions with the coaching staff, and adaptable, and they’ll ultimately be more eager than the more experienced players about hopefully one day breaking into the first team and playing regularly.

Their lives at this point are all about one thing - playing for Sunderland.

They aren’t yet burdened by having to move around the country to find a club, and most of them won’t have settled down yet with a family.

Once real adult life sets in - marriage, children, having to run a home, and ultimately shouldering more responsibility as a person than just turning up for training on time - their priorities change, and football isn’t the only important thing in their lives.

Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

They’re not saddled with the niggling injuries that come as a result of playing thrice a week against ‘men’; they’re not bitter about bad experiences at other clubs or with other managers. They’re simply young lads trying to carve out a career in football.

If we can harness that and use it to our advantage, then everybody wins.

I think we’ve seen that these lads have enough ability to hang with the other players, so developing them and making them better than they already are makes total sense.

Lee Johnson’s done a great job of bringing together the youthful element of his squad with the experience of the older lads, and as such we’re playing a higher tempo brand of football than we probably have in the previous three years at this level.

It was evident in pre-season, and it has been evident in the first two ‘proper’ games.

Now, just adding a sprinkle of quality into the mix is key.

Nobody is under any illusions - this squad needs beefing out.

We’re short in a number of areas - we know that, the manager knows that, the Sporting Director knows that, the new owner knows that.

I don’t for one minute believe that we’ll leave ourselves short, but we may not get all the bodies that we want in until later in the window.

Any ill-feeling towards the way they’re choosing to operate needs to be set aside - let’s give this manager, his backroom team and the players credit for a cracking job in getting ready for the season, I say.

They’ve taken a gamble on some talented young lads and as a result, we might just have unearthed some future stars that will go on to play a huge part in where the club goes from this point - and that’s something that excites me hugely.

I honestly cannot wait to see where things go from here.


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