Gary Rowell column - Sunderland MUST start the season well to avoid another relegation scrap

Sebastian Larsson in action for Sunderland against Leicester City. Picture by FRANK REID
Sebastian Larsson in action for Sunderland against Leicester City. Picture by FRANK REID
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This is the time of year where we can all look forward to the new season with optimism, dreaming of glory... before reality usually sets in.

Sunderland’s first game at Leicester isn’t the most glamorous in the Premier League this weekend, the TV companies haven’t beaten a path to the King Power Stadium.

If Sunderland are to avoid yet another season flirting with the drop, starting well is essential

But for supporters at both clubs, it’s a huge game, as nobody wants a bad start.

With Sunderland somehow scrambling to safety over the last couple of seasons, and Leicester producing a Great Escape of their own last year, the owners of both clubs will be thankful they are still on the Premier League gravy train, as this fixture could easily have been taking place in the Championship.

Because of the huge TV deal, and all the other sources of income attached to the Premier League, relegation isn’t an option now and if Sunderland are to avoid yet another season flirting with the drop, starting well is essential and they’ve been given that opportunity with the opening fixtures.

Sunderland’s first four games before the international break are all ones they can realistically get points from, even though we’re notoriously slow starters, and it would take all the pressure off if we could get off to a flyer for a change.

Saying that, I’m well aware that Leicester away will be a very difficult game, especially given their outstanding form at the back end of last season.

Nothing in football should come as a shock these days, but I admit I was genuinely surprised that Leicester sacked Nigel Pearson and his successor Claudio Ranieri has a huge job following him, as the second season for promoted clubs in the Premier League is so often much more difficult.

It’s no surprise that Sunderland have sold out their allocation of just over 3,000 tickets, so they’ll have great backing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the new players fit in, especially the exciting Jeremain Lens, and how Dick Advocaat sets up his team tactically.

Will he change the formation from last season?

What’s his best centre-back pairing?

And will he find a role in the team that gets the best out of Jermain Defoe?

Those are just some of the many questions that we’ll probably only find the answer to over the coming months as the season develops.

Advocaat knows the potential of the club though and I don’t know anybody who isn’t fully behind him, as he tries to move Sunderland on to another level.