Kingsley Reavley says...
Despite an abundance of riches, including some exciting new additions, I’d opt for the tried and tested combination of Dan Ballard and Danny Batth against Ipswich.
They’ve both got plenty of credit in the bank after last season’s heroics, and they offer a nice blend of youth and experience.
Batth has been one of our most astute signings of recent years and is a top professional.
He delivered consistent performances week in and week out, resulting in him winning the supporters ‘player of the season’ award, and it would be something of a travesty for him to lose his place after everything he’s contributed.
Ballard, meanwhile, has been mightily impressive.
Deceptively quick and with an ability to read the game beyond his years, he seemed to grow in stature as the season went on.
When the team was under pressure, he’d often stride out from the back and pick a positive forward pass, relieving the pressure on our backline. This was in addition to the amount of vital last-ditch tackles and blocks he made.
It was such a shame that his season was curtailed by injury, and let’s hope the paper talk surrounding bids from Premier League clubs has no substance.
Strong cases could also be made for Aji Alese and Luke O’Nien, as they both offer agility, pace, and versatility,
I’ve no doubts that they’ll play a big part over the season, as I suspect with the teams coming down, we could see an more ‘ball playing’-style Championship season than we have in previous years.
Judging by the effort made to acquire the two new additions, they’ve likely been promised regular first team football, and it’ll be interesting to see how Tony Mowbray solves that conundrum and keeps everyone happy!
Malc Dugdale says…
Like Kingsley, I’d be very happy to have both Dan Ballard and Danny Batth to start the new season against Ipswich, and I actually think it’ll take something very special to interrupt their partnership in 2023/2024.
They’re the perfect pairing of youth and experience, blending height and physicality with fitness and ball-playing ability. If I were an opposition attacker, I’d be very concerned about getting past them, because they’re a formidable force.
In my view, we would’ve been promoted last season with either of the two fit, as Luton only succeeded when their height and physicality were missing. I was gutted, but we did so well to get so close.
While the signing of Jenson Seelt is very encouraging, I think that, similar to Joe Anderson, he’s more a player for the future than for the present.
He played a lot of football at a good level last season in the Netherlands and he could arguably be more ready than both Anderson and Aji Alese, but he’ll have a lot to do to oust Batth and Ballard.
I’m not clear on if or when the likes of Luke O’Nien will get a start, or when he’ll be needed in central defence or elsewhere, but having him as a substitute or a utility option to cover several positions is clearly a great position to be in.
For me, he’s a future captain of both team and club, and having him around to teach all these young lads the ‘darker arts’ is better on our side than away from it.
I can’t wait to get stuck in and with these lads available, we’ll do very well indeed.
Matthew Crichton says…
Like my fellow writers, I agree that Danny Batth and Dan Ballard are our best two defenders on paper, but I think the starting positions deserve to go to the players who earn it on the back of pre season.
After a rollercoaster season where Sunderland snuck into the playoffs, the players benefitted massively from a lack of pressure, but expectations will certainly rise this time, and there’s no room for complacency.
If any Sunderland player is heading into pre season thinking their starting place is secure, that needs to be eradicated quickly as we need to create competition for places and keep everyone on their toes.
Pre season should be a clean slate for the squad, where everyone has a chance to earn a start against Ipswich, with the emphasis on earning it.
As I mentioned above, I think it’s likely that Ballard will be in Tony Mowbray’s mind to start and Batth was our ‘player of the season’, but it’s the job of Aji Alese, Nectarios Triantis and Jenson Seelt to demonstrate that they deserve it more.
Then you’ve also got Luke O’Nien, who performed brilliantly for a consistent period in that area. While I believe he’s better suited to being a replacement for Corry Evans, Mowbray may have other plans for the twenty seven year-old, particularly if he opts for a back three.
Knowing our luck, I think it’s highly unlikely that every central defender will be fit to face Ipswich, so may the most in-form defenders win!