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Roker Roundtable: Do pre-season results matter?

There will be plenty of focus on Alex Neil’s team as we kick off against Rangers, but what is more important: results, or ensuring the players build up their form and fitness?

Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Gav says…

Put it this way - what do you think a succession of losses would do for the confidence and overall morale of not only the group, but the fanbase, ahead of the new season?

That’s why they matter, although this is a topic I’ve gone back and forth over for many years now, unable to settle on a ‘right answer’.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is, ‘what are the biggest priorities we can take from any pre-season?’, because that’s a different conversation entirely.

Ultimately, the whole point of these games is to get the players into the best possible condition, both physically and mentally, by the time the first ball is kicked against Coventry on July 31st. That not only means they have to be beasted on the training ground and have to get match minutes into their legs, but that they also have to be mentally fit, too.

Achieving peak mental fitness is something that becomes a lot easier if, after all the boring work is done on the training ground, the match results have been positive and the performances are good.

It’s a good habit for Anthony Patterson and the defence to keep clean sheets, even in friendlies, because it will do wonders for their confidence. At the other end, scoring goals and picking up where he left off will put an extra spring in Ross Stewart’s step before he embarks upon his first ever campaign as a Championship striker.

And for Alex Neil, getting off to a good start will ease any concerns over how quickly we need to recruit new players, or deal with any problems already within the squad.

So yes - getting the players into good shape is the priority, but how we do that is important. That includes making sure we develop good habits as early as possible, starting with wins, goals and clean sheets in pre-season, no matter who the opposition is.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says…

This is a debate I have had on a number of occasions over the years.

As I headed to Celtic Park from Morpeth in August 1973, I would have been gutted to think the result did not matter to the team, but the correlation between a winning pre-season and a successful league campaign is not particularly conclusive.

In 1980/1981, we were undefeated during pre-season and were lucky not to be relegated, and the same happened in 1983/1984.

Fast forward to 1994/1995, when we lost only one of eight pre-season, and in 1999/2000, we lost four out of the seven warmup matches, and ultimately finished seventh in the league.

In essence, I think this may support the view that it is about getting minutes in the tank, giving the squad a chance to play together, as well as trying out different formations and combinations. That said, winning games breeds confidence as well as momentum.

Another variable in at this stage is the quality of the opposition.

Any game against Scottish opposition can usually guarantee plenty of effort and no soft touches, as Celtic proved at the Stadium of Light in July 2017. Personally, I would prefer to see us play higher quality opponents as the new league campaign draws nearer, but on the other hand, the 5-0 hammering from Celtic just before the start of 2017/2018 was followed by one win in nineteen games and a dismal relegation, so what do I know?!?

In 1997, for example, those who witnessed Kevin Phillips’ first game home against Ajax will no doubt have gone away from the match with the warm glow of knowing we had signed a good player.

With that in mind, it is easy to take the wider view that it is mainly about getting game time and performance levels into players, but when the Rangers game kicks off on Saturday night, I will no doubt be looking for a win, and a good one at that!

Kevin Phillips of Sunderland

Gary Engel says…

For one, I do believe in momentum, for teams as well as individuals.

Pre-season is a funny time and hard to take too seriously in the final reckoning. I’m more concerned about maintaining the morale from the end of 2021/2022, and getting our best individual players ready to hit the ground running.

A player Kelvin mentioned, Kevin Phillips, found his best form for us after a good or lively pre-season. It can’t be down to chance and it isn’t coincidental, much the same way as teams carry momentum from one league campaign to the next.

A great example of this is Leicester City.

They finished just above Sunderland in 2014/2015, but did so following their own great escape from relegation during the final few matches. Sunderland were their first opponents of the 2016/2016, in a match that could have gone either way, but once Leicester were in front there was no catching them, and they ran out 4-2 winners on the day.

That quickly became the story of their spectacular season, as they finished as Premier League champions.

Take a pragmatic approach to these games, test out a few younger players- including Dan Neil, get the players ready, and keep spirits high. Those would be my objectives.

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