Andrew Smithson says…
The three sides we played against in America provided some decent opposition, and working in that heat should hopefully benefit the players - the conditions perhaps led to us conceding a couple of iffy goals but it will be worth it in the long run, and one of the reasons for these friendlies is to get rid of the ring rust anyway.
The teams we played we are all well into their season so you’d expect them to be sharp. I’m not too concerned therefore about the odd slip that we saw, but I am enthused by our fluidity going forward; Sunderland seem to be straight back on it in attack and have scored some very encouraging goals already.
That is probably not going to come as a surprise to teams in the Championship but where we will shock people I think is in midfield. Over in the States Dan Neil looked to be in top form, Jobe showed some touches of class and Pierre Ekwah continued his superb rate of progress - there is certainly the nucleus of something very special within that trio and the potential is very exciting.
Based on what we saw on the tour the increase in the number of substitutes that can be named will work to our advantage, because those three are not our only options in that department either. I’m not sure yet how Tony Mowbray will want to set us up in the middle but he has lots of quality to pick from and if we are able to control that part of the pitch, particularly at home, it would see us take a big step forward.
Being away will have helped some of those midfield players, Chris Rigg for example, acclimatise and get themselves ready for the next stage of their Sunderland careers. A couple of injuries aside it looks like a very positive trip then, and I don’t think we could have asked for much more at this stage in preseason. The preparations seem to be going well and I’m looking forward to getting a closer look at the squad now it’s back in the UK.
I don’t think I’ve been as into a pre-season campaign as I have been this one, which I guess is a result of just how exciting the club and the team is at the minute. Usually I wouldn’t really care too much if you asked me this question, but after the season we had last time around and then after the business we’ve already done this summer I’m feeling really optimistic about the lay of the land.
What I think was and still is important about this particular pre-season was ensuring we carried all of the good aspects from last season into the new one and also get the players as fit as possible, and due to the selection of where we trained and played for our tour I think we’ve achieved that goal.
The easy option would have been to head to mainland Europe for a training camp, mixing in a few games up in Scotland to help build the fitness, and whilst that’s served us well in the past the trip to the United States has at least challenged the players. We’ve basically taken two full XIs of players out there and as it stands it’s very difficult to pick our best team based on what we’ve seen, because all of the players have had to duke it out with a teammate who is also competing for the same position in Tony Mowbray’s side.
We’ve played in intense heat, in humid conditions at altitude, which has really tested our players and pushed them to their limits fitness-wise. I imagine once they get back on the training pitch at the rainy, cold Academy of Light their lungs and legs will have felt the benefit from spending time in the southern states.
The real work starts now though. The players have got a week to prove to Tony Mowbray that they deserve to be in his starting eleven, and then once we face Mallorca next weekend I assume we’ll see his best side, with the rest of the team playing at Hartlepool in a last-gasp effort to get into the team for the Ipswich game.
Another week of fun and thrills awaits us!
Andrew Thompson says...
The four summer recruits we made early in the window tackled the height issue we clearly needed to address.
Of those players, I think Hemir will have the biggest impact early on and will most certainly start against Ipswich. It’s been nice to see him grab a few goals and this lad clearly has a knack of finding the back of the net, even if it is against teams of lesser quality.
I expect him to lead the line against Ipswich and if he grabs one or two in the first few games - I reckon he could go on to be quite a handful for many defences in the championship with his height, movement and finishing ability throughout the course of the season.
We went about our business early on and addressed the size and depth issues we had in defence last season. Looking at some of the team photos from the US tour our team looks a lot more physical than last season and will mean we can go toe-to-toe with the bigger sides of the league more consistently.
Before the transfer window began, I was in the group of fans that was shocked when the club announced that we would not be signing Michut permanently. I thought he’d looked good when he played and would be a fine addition to our squad. Seeing Rigg and Bellingham over the past few games has put my mind at ease, however. This club is starting to make ruthless decisions and you can see why they choose not to invest in Michut and instead opt for Bellingham and Rigg. I have been extremely impressed with both and can imagine one of them will be in line for a start come August 5th.
This US tour has clearly been well thought out in the sense that we’ve gone to a hot country with teams who are match-fit and given workouts to all in the squad with everyone getting sizeable minutes in each game.
It’s been clear to me that Mowbray will be wanting some options in terms of formations next season, and getting this squad use to being flexible with varying formations early on will hopefully hold us in good stead.
Keeping a fit squad will be key this year and this trip to the US, with the heat and intense training experienced, will stand all the players in good stead for another grueling season in terms of the fitness levels the championship demands.
I think we will make some more signings in the coming weeks, both permanently and in loans which will strengthen our first team and squad depth, but currently we look in very good shape for the season ahead.