Six things we learned from England-bound Sam Allardyce's last Sunderland game
It is now just a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's - and the not-so small matter of compensation.
Sam Allardyce will be the next England manager. His short spell in charge on Wearside coming to an end with a comfortable 3-0 win over Hartlepool United.
But what did we learn from his last game in charge ahead of the new Premier League campaign?
Strangely subdued atmosphere for Big Sam’s last game:
No banners and one half-hearted chant from a pocket of fans towards the end of the game.
That was the sum of the public recognition towards Allardyce, by fans fed up and frustrated by the whole situation.
It isn’t Allardyce’s or Sunderland’s doing. The blame lies solely at the feet of the FA, who have dragged their heels in appointing Roy Hodgson’s successor.
The news broke around two hours before kick-off that Allardyce is the next England manager in waiting but there was a strangely subdued atmosphere for what is expected to be his finale.
Perhaps he missed a trick in not coming back and saluting the Sunderland fans for one last time at the end of the game.
Now, though, is the time for both parties to move on.
Sunderland breezed through first pre-season test:
No doubt Allardyce has bigger things on his mind as he sat watching Sunderland’s first pre-season game, but he would have been impressed.
Sunderland stormed past Pools.
Defoe, in particular, shone, looking as sharp as ever after a busy summer in the gym. His second goal had Big Sam off his feet applauding.
Sadly for Craig Hignett, Pools posed Sunderland little threat. The second half was a more even affair, with the youngsters given the chance to stake a claim.
Marked improvement in fitness levels:
One of the biggest criticisms of Dick Advocaat’s pre-season 12-months ago was the poor fitness levels.
This year Allardyce was keen to do things differently, taking the players off to Austria for an intense nine-day training camp and then to France instead of half-way around the world.
Early days of course but judging by the fitness levels against Hartlepool, there seems a marked improvement.
Deadly Defoe starts where he left off:
Aside from Allardyce, one of THE major factors in Sunderland’s survival last season was the form - and goals - of Defoe.
The level of opposition he comes up against in the Premier League will, of course, be far higher come August 13.
But Defoe looked deadly nonetheless and he was unlucky not to have come away with the match ball.
His sharpness left Toto Nsiala in pieces and his second goal chipped over the head of ex-Sunderland stopper Trevor Carson was technically flawless.
The 3,000 plus travelling fans were on their feet. Maybe an England recall isn’t out of the question just yet with Allardyce in charge...
Promising start but need for signings clear:
Nobody is kidding themselves of the challenges that lie ahead in one of the most eagerly anticipated Premier League campaigns.
The uncertainty over Allardyce’s future has clearly had a major impact on the club’s ability to bring in any new signings.
With just three weeks until the start, Sunderland are again playing catch-up.
A new manager needs to be appointed imminently with new recruits next through the door; a striker, right-back (despite Billy Jones’s two assists) and midfield reinforcements key.
Charles N’Zogbia fails to shine:
Sunderland are yet to make a summer signing, the closest they have come is N’Zogbia on trial.
He came on as a second half sub, playing in an advanced midfield role. The Frenchman showed little of what he is capable of.
On this evidence, he hasn’t done enough to suggest it is worth pursuing any further.
But expect him to be given further opportunities in France - with a new manager to impress.