Chris Young: Sunderland's pre-season schedule is infinitely more sensible than last year
A year ago, Sunderland faced a race against time to organise a suitable pre-season programme for the returning Dick Advocaat to preside over.
Sunderland were unsure whether they would be preparing for the Premier League or the Championship until the final week of the previous campaign, and there wasn’t a head coach to consult about potential friendlies until Advocaat’s U-turn on June 4.
Under the terms of the Jermain Defoe / Jozy Altidore swap deal, Sunderland were duty-bound to head across the Atlantic to face MLS outfit Toronto, but that was the sole date in the diary.
The relatively blank piece of paper left Sunderland in a challenging situation, yet the programme ultimately devised for Advocaat’s troops just wasn’t fit for purpose and as has been well-documented, surely played a part in the Black Cats’ dire start to the season.
There was no need for Sunderland to travel to the west coast of America, as well as Canada, while the last thing jet-lagged players wanted when they got back to Blighty was another flight out to Germany.
Sunderland were so under-cooked that they were probably two or three weeks behind the preparations of opening day opponents Leicester, who perhaps inevitably blew them away.
Sam Allardyce wasn’t here to preside over that shambles, but he’s not brushed it under the carpet. When he began to plot the first steps on Sunderland’s pre-season several months ago, he took sound-bites from members of staff on why last summer was so unsuitable.
Allardyce knew the issues of these long-haul pre-season jaunts anyway from West Ham’s trip to New Zealand two years ago and was determined to keep Sunderland confined to western Europe ahead of his first full campaign at the Stadium of Light.
The confirmation of Sunderland’s final friendly against Borussia Dortmund concludes an infinitely more sensible series of warm-up games for the Black Cats.
Sunderland have gone back to a tried and tested pre-season campaign - a behind-closed-doors training camp in the hills of Austria, a couple of games against local opposition and a few more on the Continent.
It’s exactly what Sunderland needed to build on the momentum of their successful survival challenge. Just look how Leicester thrived after seven friendlies in the Midlands last summer.
Sunderland face a gradual improvement in the standard of their opposition too, other than a test against Swiss minnows FC Stade Nyonnais for the first of three games inside seven days around the Lake Geneva area.
Allardyce’s men will go from League Two to Championship, two French top flight outfits and then conclude with a clash against German giants Dortmund.
The latter encounter, just eight days before the new Premier League season gets underway, couldn’t be a much better dress rehearsal for Sunderland’s opening day trip to Manchester City.
There is no guarantee that this year’s pre-season programme will prompt a better start to the campaign than 12 months ago (although it couldn’t get much worse).
But at least Sunderland are giving themselves the best possible opportunity to begin on the front foot.
* Sunderland’s friendly against Dortmund will take place on Friday August 5 (kick-off 6pm).
The match will be played the Cashpoint Arena, the home of Austrian side SC Rheindorf Altach, with ticket details yet to be confirmed.
Sunderland have previously announced warm-up games against Hartlepool United, Rotherham United, Stade Nyonnais, Dijon and Montpellier.