David Preece: Pre-season optimism knows no bounds but patience is crucial for new-look Sunderland
Here we go again then. Jumping in to the new season with two feet like a John Kay tackle.
Under new Stewartship, with a new manager and squad that’s had a facelift any ageing Hollywood star would be happy with. Only time will tell if that facelift will turn out to be a Cher or a Michael Jackson but right now, more than ever, pre-season optimism knows no bounds.
There’s a certain excitement in the unknown. On a stint at Talksport this week, I was asked how I thought this season was going to pan out for us and I just had to be honest and say that I didn’t have a clue.
I know what constitutes a good or a bad season come next May but unlike previous years, there isn’t a great deal to go on at the moment. Pre-season is never a great indicator for what follows once the games carry consequence, but considering the state on transition the squad is in, it was always going to be more about getting up to speed for Saturday and building from there, more than it was about forming cohesion.
Once the revolving doors stop moving, then the real construction can begin to take form. Patience is a virtue I was never blessed with - ask anyone who played alongside me or has spent any time in queues at airport security and they will testify to that. But we all need to to be patient with Jack Ross and his side as they find their feet in this division.
Despite their end-of-season play-off disappointment, opponents like Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic this Saturday have an advantage over Sunderland in that they have some knowledge of what it takes to get into the play-offs. That disappointment they felt last May will be tempered by the confidence they can perhaps go a little further this time.
And whilst we don’t don’t know quite what to expect from our own side, that could also work in our favour too. The first few games of a season can be highly unpredictable but this will be the case even more so with Sunderland. And to be honest, if I was sat on the opposition bench, I wouldn’t be waiting around to wait for the match to settle before I got into the game.
I’d want my team to go full throttle from the off and try to put Sunderland’s backline under immediate pressure.
Defensive cohesion in a newly-assembled side is difficult to establish. The goalkeeper and defenders take time to form a relationship and especially after the travails over the past 12 months in the goalkeeping department, you’d think there will be a big focus from Lee Bowyer to test not only the resolve of Jon McLaughlin but of the crowd too.
There’s no doubt that the catastrophes of the past few seasons will form part of Bowyer’s call to arms prior to the game and whether it is a true statement or not, he will be telling his players that if they can put us on the back foot and perhaps even nick a goal, the stands will be restless, the anxiety on the pitch will be ramped up - and they will be able to take advantage of that.
We just have to face up to the facts that when a club has been down like we have, opposition sides have an added motivation to keep us there. Whenever we faced a struggling side, an ex-coach of mine used to tell us not to take our hands off their throat. And that’s what teams will be looking to do.
This may be a new beginning for us, but to everyone else, we are still double relegation-hit Sunderland who haven’t been able to win at home, and until we do, that won’t change at all.
This is what we’re up against now. We aren’t just facing up to life in League One. We’re facing up to life in League One where people want to see us suffer even more, and lift their performances playing in front of the division’s biggest crowds.
New faces at every level or not, it’s all cosmetic up to this point and without sounding too much like a self-help guru it’s what’s inside everyone one of the players that counts and they might just need our help.
This is a project that might seem to have been put together in a short space of time, but patience is going to be crucial.
So if Charlton do start the game like a house on fire, let’s make sure we don’t fan the flames.