Behind the scenes at the Academy of Light as Sunderland gear up for huge Stoke City clash

Sunderland AFC training at Academy of Light
Sunderland AFC training at Academy of Light
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There are two things that catch the eye as the Sunderland players prepare to start their training session at the Academy of Light.

Firstly, the lack of numbers.

Sunderland AFC training at Academy of Light

Sunderland AFC training at Academy of Light

No real surprise given the chronic injury problems currently facing the Black Cats, with Belgium defender Jason Denayer the latest to be added to what seems an ever-increasing list.

The other factor is the international break, with several first team players still away on international duty including Jordan Pickford, Duncan Watmore, Didier Ndong and Wahbi Khazri.

Second, though, is just how hands on David Moyes is.

The Sunderland boss had a reputation when he arrived of being very hands-on in training and that he is, with predecessor Sam Allardyce often letting his coaching staff lead the sessions.

I, along with other regional and national press, was invited along to the inner sanctum of the club’s training base to get a flavour of the work that goes on there day in, day out.

And it is hard work too.

Results on the pitch have been disappointing, to say the least, with Sunderland currently propping up the rest of the Premier League table after their annual poor start to the new campaign.

But that doesn’t seem to have dented confidence too much, if the atmosphere at the training ground is anything to go by.

John O’Shea, back from international duty with the Republic of Ireland, was among nine senior players taking part in training.

Fit-again Victor Anichebe joined other senior pros Jack Rodwell, Jermain Defoe, Patrick van Aanholt, Billy Jones, Papy Djilobodji, Mika and Javier Manquillo, with younger players Donald Love, Tommy Robson, George Honeyman and Ethan Robson fleshing out the numbers.

Moyes and his coaching staff, which includes Robbie Stockdale and Paul Bracewell, are in good spirits as the players go through their warm-up exercises.

Inside the state-of-the-art indoor facility, the players are undergoing their daily ‘activation session’. Sounds pleasant enough but in reality it is an intense warm-up lasting around 25 minutes, with the players taking part in short, sharp activities to get the juices in the mind, body and soul flowing.

Medicine balls are dotted around the floor of the 4G synthetic pitch, alongside an array of stretching matts and various pieces of equipment for the players to jump over, pull along or dodge between before firing a shot at goal.

It is a busy environment, with music playing out of the speakers to help motivation levels.

The first session of the morning ends with some shooting practice and sprint fitness drills before the group make their way outside at 10.55am.

A typical October morning greets the players but there are no gloves in sight. Plenty of long sleeves though, with George Honeyman the only player tough enough to brave a short-sleeved shirt.

Moyes, again, is at the heart of the action.

The squad splits into two groups, with the goalkeepers working separately at the far end of the pitch. Seb Larsson, making his comeback from knee surgery, runs around the training pitches away from the main group.

The first outdoor session sees the players take part in high-intensity one and two-touch passing exercises.

Moyes and Stockdale barking orders and encouragement in the players’ ears.

The Sunderland players want for nothing at the Academy of Light. The training pitches are in superb condition, with equally impressive indoor facilities including a gym and hydrotherapy pool.

Outside, the players have moved onto the pitch next to them for the next exercise, which is aimed at moving the ball quickly across midfield and getting crosses into the box.

Something Moyes has demanded his players do more in matches.

Anichebe miss-hits two efforts but his aim improves as the session goes on, while Defoe is his usual clinical self. He even celebrates in training. Djilobodji then pops up with a late double.

As one cross goes wayward, though, Moyes - in the centre dictating play - doesn’t hold back, “you hit that with a shovel” he barks.

The 53-year-old - who has a smile on his face throughout - doesn’t have much to complain about, though, with the players generally meeting his high standards as the players move into the final exercise, which sees defence versus attack.

With the rest of the first team squad due to arrive back on Wearside on Thursday, preparations are in full swing ahead of the bottom-of-the-table clash at Stoke City.

Sunderland are putting in the hard work at the training ground. But they need to quickly transform that into performances and points when it matters.

Starting with Stoke on Saturday.