FORMER Sunderland goalkeeper Tony Norman believes the Black Cats will return to pre-season mentally stronger for the new campaign ahead.
And he says Sunderland fans shouldn’t rule out a season which exceeds expectations in what will be Martin O’Neill’s first full season in charge of the club.
The ex-Roker Park stalwart’s view is that Sunderland lost their way under Steve Bruce at the start of last season and weren’t able to pull out of a nosedive in time to save the Tynesider’s job.
The Welshman credits new manager Martin O’Neill with arresting that alarming slump towards the relegation zone.
But he says that while last season’s aim became to survive, Sunderland will start the 2012/13 season looking to thrive.
“By the time Sunderland players start pre-season training on Wednesday, everybody will be up for it,” he told the Echo.
“It’s a completely fresh season and they’ll be looking to progress from where they finished last season.
“At one time, early in the season, it could have finished really disappointingly.
“Alarm bells were ringing all over the place and there was a little bit of fear around the place.
“But that was stabilised – Martin did a great job and gave the club a lift.
“That showed in the results and although it went a little bit flat towards the end, they got through to the end of the season and now they can regroup.
“Plans will be in place to be implemented. Managers never stop looking at ways to change things.
“And they’ll just be looking to progress in terms of results and league position.
“They’ve stabilised. Now they’ve got to build on that and set little targets, ‘where can they go from here?’”
Norman, who was at Sunderland from 1988-95 and starred in the run to the 1992 FA Cup final, says the club’s goals these days are far loftier than his time at Roker Park – owner Ellis Short and O’Neill have made no secret of their intention of earning Sunderland a finish in the top half of the Premier League this season.
But Norman says he wouldn’t be surprised if the Wearsiders, under O’Neill, do even better than most people expect.
“Obviously Sunderland will aim for the top 10 and then see where they can go,” he said. “But just look at Newcastle and what’s happened to them, so who knows?
“Sunderland will be looking to get off to a good start and see where it takes them from there.”