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Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Reader’s Corner: Seven reasons to be optimistic about Sunderland’s fortunes this season!

RR reader Gabriel Ridley is hopeful of a good season, and picks out seven people who could make all the difference. Fancy writing? - send us an email!

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Well, the first game of the season is done. A narrow and bitterly disappointing loss to a newly promoted team. Aren’t newly promoted teams notorious up and down the leagues for always being difficult to start the season against, as they have the most to prove?

I was at the game, and as I mentioned in my recent fan letter, I’ve seen enough from this team to completely and utterly ignore even the existence of a panic button. We have the players, not all of them, but the players we have are quality. Seriously, is there anyone in our squad that is unanimously agreed amongst the fan base to not be a credit in some way shape or form? That leads me on to my first player...

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Alex Pritchard

While he may not be good enough to stay among the first team in the event of a promotion, I believe it would be ludicrous to move him on right now. When he came on against Ipswich, his energy, his determination, the effort and the belief was there for anyone to see. He is perfect for our young players. Anyone who plays football either at school or after work will agree that that one friend or colleague who is always vocal and gets you going is ideal to play with as they give you an energy boost and their belief transcends into you. As talented as he may be, young Jobe isn’t going to do that at the age of 17. Pritchard epitomises the effect a veteran, although only aged 29, I believe, can bring, and it is needed.

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

Pierre Ekwah

The rate that this lad is improving is frightening, and long may it continue. What Pierre is doing right now is dominating. You can’t teach that. You can’t coach that and it needs to be bought 99% of the time. Ekwah dominated the midfield against Ipswich and against Crewe when he came on – we’ll all ignore the god awful penalty – but if Pierre plays like this for the season he will be invaluable.

Until Corry Evans gets back, he is really the only one who can do it.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jack Clarke

Fairly simple one isn’t it? My only worry with Clarke is that the constant transfer speculation to downgrade to what was until only recently, the most boring team to ever play in the Premier League, may have an effect on his mind.

Being linked to a Premier League team in the Championship must be enticing for a player of Jack’s quality as he certainly has the talent to play there, but if he can keep his head right while he is currently here and playing, his double-digit tally for both goals and assists last season should be surpassed this season. If that happens, dare I dream to predict it will be from Jack Clarke a goal or an assist that will come at a time as important as Amad’s goals would last season. The pressure is only going to mount up the more you prove yourself to be a player of Jack’s calibre and we need it.

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

Dan Ballard

Again, a fairly obvious one, but it is to such tremendous credit to the club that we not only signed him, but have convinced him that this is the place for a modern-day defender of his ilk to progress and to sign a long-term deal. A few years ago he would have been sold to the first bidder but now he is here for the long haul!

He is tall, strong, dominant and will almost certainly be at the heart of our defence when we hopefully, sooner rather than later, line-up for our first game back in the promised land. I, along with the rest of our fan base, sincerely hope that he has an injury-free season to truly exhibit the gem of a player we have in our defence.

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

Aji Alese

I love watching this lad play. In fact, the thing I always think about when he plays is how fortunate we are to have two left-sided full backs of the quality of Alese and Dennis Cirkin. This is where Alese comes to bear fruit – he is more versatile than DC3, in my opinion. He has the ability and physical attributes to play alongside Dan Ballard in defence, can play left-back and I think he also has shown enough to suggest that he has qualities going forward on that left-hand side. One particular example is the high level of vision he showed for the cutback against Fulham for Jack Clarke at the home fixture in the cup last season.

With DC3 and Alese, they are both too good for the bench and I think Tony Mowbray will have 110% pondered how to get them both into the same team. He will bring the best out of DC3 when they are both fit, and Dennis is already up there with the best full-backs in the division! With his youth as well, and the fact he has been injured a lot, Aji may very well still be able to bring the element of surprise of what he brings against higher quality teams when he gets a good run of games to show his worth to a promotion-chasing side.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ross Stewart

Whether he signs the contract or not, Rosscoe is a vital cog in our system and when he is involved, we are a better team. Simple as that. No insult to young Hemir Semedo, but that chance he got against Ipswich where he turned his man and took too long to shoot? I’d bet you’d struggle to find many, if any, supporters who would doubt the Loch Ness Drogba not putting that chance away if presented to him. He has the clinical edge and the experience we so desperately need upfront right now and we all know we would be better off with him playing as opposed to nursing an injury.

On a side note, whether a deal can be struck or not, I am happy with either scenario. If he signs and stays, brilliant. Our promotion chances will be elevated and he can continue to build a legacy as potentially the Sunderland striker whose goals earned us two promotions after the worst seasons in our beloved club's history. Or, if he goes, he has my sincere thanks for all he has done and we can move on. While any fee may not be as high as if he were on a longer contract and not injury prone, the fee we would receive (if we sell him now or in January) would still be a significant profit on a player we originally signed for somewhere in the region of £400,000 if I am not mistaken.

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

Tony Mowbray

If last season was the audition, then this season is the production. With all due respect to Tony, last season, no matter what happened, there was an excuse/ reason for it all. We will all know what issues I am referring to and the context behind it.

Point being, I love having Mogga in charge and he fits the ethos of our club perfectly right now, but I can’t help but ponder what it is going to be like when every issue he has had during his reign is rectified. No striker? We’ve brought in Semedo, Mayenda and have Ross Stewart coming back soon. No physical presence in defence? We’ve recruited two centre halves who are both over 6ft. Not enough experience in the squad? Pritchard, Baath, O’Nien, Roberts, Stewart and Corry Evans are all still at the club with the addition of Bradley Dack. Yes, more experienced heads are needed, but let us not forget, the main young core of this squad now has a year of championship football under their belt.

We need Mogga to be able to lead them into becoming a team like Burnley were last season, where every game is a relentless and ruthless battle for three points and nothing less. He is a seasoned veteran of Championship management and there are seldom many managers with his ability to coach young players effectively. By the end of the window he will surely have the players that he needs and, from then on, with the opportunity to re-assess in January, we can compete at the top half of the table with Tony at the helm.


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