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San Antonio v Sunderland Pe-Season Friendly

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A physically demanding pre-season is exactly what Sunderland need ahead of 2023/2024

As we continue to ramp up our preparations for the new season, the Lads are looking fitter and stronger than ever - just what is needed!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

During the early weeks and months of the 2022/2023 season, Sunderland’s players, particularly at home, threw themselves into every game with relish bordering on abandon as they demonstrated their desire to make an immediate impact in the Championship.

In front of a home crowd we would come flying out of the blocks, moving the ball around at pace, demonstrating real attacking intent, and taking the game to the opponents from the get go.

It was a ‘full throttle’ approach that often allowed us to make brilliant starts, not least against Burnley, when the Clarets were hit with two quick goals and seemed unable to deal with what we were throwing at them as the Stadium of Light was electrified by what was unfolding.

This positive almost carefree style of play was a joy to watch, but there’s no doubt that it was flawed.

Through a combination of naivety in pressurised situations as well as a lack of composure and physical endurance, the latter stages of games were often problematic as the spark gradually disappeared and we started to fade badly towards the final twenty minutes or so.

In the case of the Burnley game it allowed them to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 victory, and you could see from the players’ body language that they'd simply burned themselves out and had nothing left in the tank.

Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Addressing these issues ahead of the coming season is a top priority, and when it comes to game management the lessons from 2022/2023 should be taken into the new campaign.

After all, if the Championship was something of an unknown quantity last time around it’ll hold no such surprises this season, and our performances during the back end of last season suggested that we were beginning to learn the art of controlling games; when to slow things down and take the sting out of a match and when to capitalise on potential openings.

If the mental side of the game is something we should be getting better at, the physical aspect looks to be improving substantially too.

When our pre-season schedule was announced eyebrows were raised at the itinerary and the standard of opponents we’d be facing, but in the aftermath of Saturday night’s 3-1 victory over San Antonio in the July heat of Texas it feels as though there was some smart thinking at play.

Judging by the efforts of the lads during pre-season so far, physical conditioning looks to be very high on the agenda, and recent pictures from training have shown just how much the likes of Jack Clarke and Dennis Cirkin have developed physically.

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

From being a slight and raw prospect when he first arrived, Clarke now looks like a powerful and potent attacker, ready to step up again and hopefully replicate his numbers from last season. The same is true of the likes of Dan Neil and Trai Hume, who are now evolving from talented prodigies into exciting and physically robust senior talents.

We all know that this is a supremely skillful footballing side, but once you combine that with a higher standard of fitness, that’s when you start to make the transition from being hopefuls to genuine contenders.

What’s always separated the top teams in any division from the rest is their ability to summon the energy to make that last-ditch tackle or win a crucial header, and to work the opening that can lead to a late equalising or winning goal.

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - The Hawthorns Photo by Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images

Last season, we did it against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns and against Watford at home.

On both occasions, it was a reminder of how we would often dig out results under the likes of Peter Reid and Roy Keane: never stop fighting, be patient, and take your opportunities when they arrive.

When it comes to fitness, those small margins and percentages could play a major role in whether we challenge for automatic promotion or a playoff spot this coming season. Our home record needs to improve significantly, and being able to go the distance is absolutely crucial.

Judging by how the lads have developed over the summer and how hard they’re being pushed during the final weeks of the offseason, we should be confident that when the real action starts in August, we’ll be ready to compete from the first whistle to the last.

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