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Bradford City v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly

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Roker Roundtable: How are you feeling about Sunderland’s prospects with one pre-season game left?

Patchy performances and mixed results have underpinned our buildup to the new campaign. How do our panel think that Alex Neil’s players are shaping up?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

We certainly could do with some more players, but I thought that before we played Accrington Stanley anyway. I’m not too worried about us not getting them either, because there seems to be plenty of thought going into our recruitment, and I think the majority the deals we do will pay off in the long run.

If that means waiting until after the Coventry City game, so be it.

Whilst it wouldn’t be ideal to put a couple of square pegs in round holes for now, it is preferable to jumping into things just for the sake of it. A lot of the football we saw under Alex Neil last season was seemingly ‘needs must’ anyway, and he managed our lack of defensive options brilliantly, so you’d like to think he can set us up well, even without all of our transfer business complete again if needed.

It is the presence of Neil that makes me feel as positive as I do about the coming season.

He has Championship experience and has already shown himself to be very flexible tactically. After such a whirlwind first few months in charge, he has finally had a chance to really drill his ideas home during pre-season too, so I’m expecting his players to understand their roles even more clearly now.

The manager can only do so much of course, but the deals I want to see being done are mainly about pushing us up the table, and I think the squad possesses enough quality already to be well clear of the relegation battle.

Take Dan Neil, for instance.

This was a player being linked with Premier League clubs not so long ago and yet he barely got a look in towards the end of 2021/2022. Seeing a popular local lad continually sidelined would normally cause ructions, but fans could see that those ahead of him were doing the business.

Elliot Embleton is in a similar position. The lad has got serious technical ability and yet isn’t guaranteed a starting place every week, whereas at least two thirds of clubs in the Championship could only dream of having such depth.

One thing that could be an issue in the coming weeks is fitness.

This was another area the manager seemed to have got down to a tee, but being in the playoffs means the lads have had a much shorter break than other squads. The winter World Cup could also impact things, as fixtures are bunched up, but an increased substitute allowance and Alex Neil’s past record when bringing players on should stand us in good stead in that regard.

Every facet of our play has improved during this calendar year. Friendly games notwithstanding, we’ve been getting stronger in defence, and have made more consistent use of our attacking threat in the final third. The team has also started being able to put together a performance across the full ninety minutes (and beyond, in some instances) and we are also becoming more streetwise, as well.

I know that we are now at a higher level now, and that some of these abilities will be tested a lot more, but both Hillsborough and Wembley showed that Sunderland can handle pressure situations and big games. I feel that we are going into the new season with momentum behind us and enough reasons to be quietly confident.

Jon Guy says…

One or two swallows don’t make a summer, and it’s been a mixed pre-season.

We’ve brought in some classy young players who can certainly do a job, but we also knew that we needed to strengthen in multiple areas, and that remains the case. We cannot put the whole goalkeeping burden on Anthony Patterson, and we cannot solely rely on Ross Stewart to score the goals.

The likelihood is that we may have to wait for the players Alex Neil has targeted, so I suspect the start of the season may well be rocky. The past two games may well be the catalyst for the club to ramp up its transfer business, and it is always a bit of a lottery when it comes to the window, and we also need to take heart in the determination to bring in players who will enhance the squad rather than simply make up the the numbers.

I’m not panicking about the season ahead, but I’m realistic enough to understand it won’t be plain sailing. We need to trust in Alex Neil and believe that the club will back him.

Dundee United v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Damian Brown says…

Based purely on pre-season, I think we’ve got clear, obvious problems in a handful of roles. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all the gaffer, but ultimately we’re still waiting for those problems to be fixed.

One of my key concerns, and some will disagree, is that I will be very shocked if Ross Stewart manages to replicate his form from last season.

I think his performance on Saturday highlighted my concerns. We know he’s a capable forward, and we know he can score goals, but he’s just as likely to go missing from a game as he is to excel in it, and his final touch leaves a lot to be desired. He was through on goal only twice against Accrington, and not only did he not score, he didn’t even do a passable impression of a player that looked like he might score.

We’re crying out for a striker that can storm into the box and produce a finish from the sort of angle that Stewart can so often squander. If we don’t fix that problem by bringing in someone that’s lethal in those areas, we could be looking at a drought in goal terms. We certainly have players in other positions that can score but depending on your wingers and midfielders is no way to conduct a successful campaign.

Beyond that, we’re still making full-backs out of whatever is lying around the house, something that we will suffer for against any opposition with even an iota of common sense and two eyes with which to see.

Ultimately, pre-season can’t always be used as a means by which to glimpse into the future, but if our performances so far have been any indicator of what’s to come, what’s to come is a real struggle to take an early foothold in the upcoming competition. I just hope the recruitment team and everyone else involved in improving the squad were watching on Saturday.

Dundee United v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Paul Devlin/SNS Group via Getty Images


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