Kevin Bell: Initial signs promising as Simon Grayson prepares for promotion challenge

Josh Maja impressed in Friday's 3-2 friendly win at Bury. Picture by Frank Reid.
Josh Maja impressed in Friday's 3-2 friendly win at Bury. Picture by Frank Reid.
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Sunderland’s pre-season friendly victory over Bury on Friday evening meant new manager Simon Grayson made a winning start.

Results in pre-season games are not the most reliable barometer of a club’s prospects in the season to come, but winning whilst learning is a nice combination.

So, what did those lucky enough to be at Gigg Lane soaking up the summer drizzle learn?

As many had feared, the new SAFC home kit does nothing for Wahbi Khazri.

The Tunisian’s second-half introduction evoked childhood memories of visits to the Big Top when the circus hit town. Khazri did, however, play skillfully and energetically.

Fans were also shown that a number of players to have come through the club’s youth set-up look capable of contributing in the Championship season ahead.

Chief among these was Josh Maja who scored twice and generally looked composed and likely to create problems for Bury’s defence every time he had the ball.

Unfortunately, Sunderland’s first-half performance also suggests that some of the players from last season’s Premier League capitulation are just as capable of losing games against teams from lower leagues as they were against the best English teams.

It is as well then that Simon Grayson is keen to bring new signings to the club sooner rather than later.

Encouragingly, Grayson appears to know well both the Championship and the market his limited budget obliges him to concentrate.

It makes sense that those in the SAFC boardroom have seemingly dispensed with the notion that they should have a football model to which the manager must mould his thinking.

From Udinese to Director of Football, Sunderland have taken up and subsequently discarded models at a rate that a young Rod Stewart would have considered indecorous.

In hiring a manager with proven credentials, in Sam Allardyce, and creating a supportive environment to work, Sunderland came as close to getting things right as they did notionally copying whichever club was on a good run.

This approach does at least allow the manager to be properly praised when getting it right, in Sam’s case, and criticised for egregious failure of the type delivered by David Moyes.

Grayson’s obvious delight at being named SAFC manager, self-belief and enthusiasm for the difficult task ahead of him, do him great credit.

If he can ally the spark the youth in his squad exhibited on Friday with the more reliable, experienced players, and add a little quality, then this is a combination Sunderland have had success with in the Championship before.

So farewell then Seb Larsson, a player who guaranteed three points – and all of them directed at the referee.

Sweden’s very own Lord Kitchener has decided to leave Sunderland and continue his career elsewhere.

It’s a pity he has chosen to go as Larsson has been a fine servant to the club.

Time and injuries have taken their toll on him recently, but he has always been a reliable performer in a period when the team generally has been typified by ludicrous unpredictability.

Add Larsson’s ability to play in a number of positions and a lovely habit of scoring aesthetically pleasing goals then, had he decided to stay on Wearside, he would have proved an asset next season.

In their 10-year Premier League stint, Sunderland spent some eye watering amounts of money in transfer fees and wages on players either not good enough to play at that level, not willing to work hard enough to do so and some who thought that occasional flashes of quality sufficed.

Larsson, for whom the club did not have to pay a transfer fee, was not one that any of the above failings applied to and I thank him for it.