Chris Young’s big-match verdict: Sunderland’s great chance for a flying start!

Patrick van Aanholt.
Patrick van Aanholt.
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LEE CONGERTON has endured an earful this summer.

The new sporting director has had Gus Poyet breathing down his neck over the need to have fresh faces in time for pre-season, while supporters have been equally frantic for signings after the decimation of the squad at the end of last season.

But realistically, how many fans would have taken umbrage at Sunderland completing deals for seven players before the opening day, with a £14million offer still on the table for Fabio Borini?

In a World Cup year, when the market effectively goes on ice for a month, that’s a far from shabby return for Congerton’s first summer at the helm.

Encouragingly too, they are all players at the top of Sunderland’s hit-list.

Patrick van Aanholt is the only arrival that wasn’t one of Sunderland’s first-choice signings after Fiorentina priced Marcos Alonso out of a Stadium of Light return.

But given Sunderland’s outlay of just £1.5m for a Dutch international, the capture of the lightning quick defender is hardly comparable to last summer when Roberto De Fanti was desperately trying to source any available left-back and came up with Andrea Dossena.

It’s likely to be a case of seven down, three to go, with Poyet eager to finally bring a positive conclusion to the Borini chase, while also boosting his options in central midfield and defence.

With more than a fortnight to go to fill just three voids though, that’s not bad going.

The more pressing question is how many of the new boys will start at the Hawthorns tomorrow?

Some will be in the starting XI through default and a pure lack of alternative options.

Van Aanholt and Santiago Vergini (albeit he has already made his debut for the club) will line up alongside John O’Shea and Wes Brown in defence, with Billy Jones’ best hope of being involved against his former club coming as a substitute after missing a fortnight of training through a hamstring strain.

Jack Rodwell will start too, as the box-to-box midfielder Poyet has been longing for.

But it is the remaining three signings who will be sweating on their inclusion.

Costel Pantilimon vs Vito Mannone will be one of the enduring selection battles of the season.

Deciding between the two stoppers tomorrow is a daunting dilemma for Poyet and will prompt inevitable question marks over who loses out.

As for Jordi Gomez and Will Buckley, Poyet must find the most bearable solution to fill the void on the left flank, with Emanuele Giaccherini ruled out with a groin strain.

There is no obvious solution.

Poyet could use Connor Wickham on the left, with Steven Fletcher down the middle - as he has done at several times in pre-season - yet the former is clearly a far more accomplished performer when he is leading the line.

Gomez hasn’t got the natural pace to play out wide regularly, while Buckley has had minimal opportunity to train with his new team-mates, albeit he is no stranger to Poyet’s ideas.

Do both of them have to play second fiddle, with Charis Mavrias included?

Getting the right pieces of the jigsaw together in the final third is crucial tomorrow, because this is a presentable opportunity to start the season with three points, despite Sunderland losing on their last five visits to the Hawthorns.

West Brom have endured a relatively miserable pre-season.

Big money buy Ideye Brown is only likely to be on the bench after minimal pre-season action due to problems with his work permit.

Fellow signing Cristian Gamboa isn’t even in the country yet due to visa issues.

Key midfielder James Morrison is ruled out through injury, as is Joleon Lescott after the England international arrived on a Bosman deal this summer.

With Lescott’s fellow centre-half Gareth McAuley on the bench at best, due to his own injury problems, there will be a make-do-and-mend element to Alan Irvine’s first selection as Baggies boss.

While Poyet has not had as much time as he would have liked with his new signings, there has been far more cohesion and harmony around Sunderland’s pre-season.

There is a huge chance to convert that into a victory tomorrow and immediately surpass Sunderland’s points tally from the first eight games of last season.

Verdict: Away win