New signings, tactical tweaks and trialists? What to watch for as Sunderland head to Hearts
As is always the case with pre-season friendlies, there will be plenty of interesting narratives to follow as Sunderland head to Hearts.
In what is the Black Cats’ second public pre-season friendly, there will be plenty of eyes on Tynecastle as the League One season grows ever closer.
So what should fans look out for in the game? We take a look:
The Wearsiders’ trio of new additions could be in contention for the game north of the border.
Corry Evans and Callum Doyle have both been pictured training with the side in Scotland and so will likely be involved in some capacity against Hearts.
Alex Pritchard won’t feature, however, after he returned a positive test for COVID-19.
This game will also hand an opportunity to Luke O’Nien and Aiden McGeady, who will play in front of supporters for the first time since signing new contracts. The duo both missed the 2-2 draw at Spennymoor Town.
While the Sunderland squad that heads to Tynecastle will be a more senior one than that which played at Spennymoor, there will still be some youngsters involved.
Ellis Taylor, Dan Neil, Jacob Carney, Sam Wilding, Tyrese Dyce and Kenton Richardson have all been part of the training camp this week and so could feature.
Oliver Younger may also make a comeback after missing the draw at Spennymoor, and the likes of Anthony Patterson and Jack Diamond will also be hopeful of further pre-season minutes.
These players have a fantastic opportunity to impress as Sunderland’s squad rebuild continues and many will be hoping to put themselves firmly in Lee Johnson’s thoughts ahead of the big kick-off.
It remains to be seen whether Josh Hawkes will be able to feature after withdrawing from the warm-up at the Brewery Field a fortnight ago.
Lee Johnson started with a 3-4-3 at Spennymoor, but that was more down to necessity and the desire to give all senior players some much-needed minutes.
But at Hearts it is likely that the Sunderland head coach will start in a system more akin to that which the Black Cats will begin the League One season with.
Johnson has made no secret of his desire to play a 4-3-3 in the long-term and it could well be that shape which Sunderland start with in Scotland.
If that is the case, then expect this game to give an early indication of the style of play that the side will be expected to play this season – albeit with the caveat that there is plenty of tactical work still to be done before the campaign begins.
The Black Cats are continuing their recruitment drive and reportedly took Eric Lichaj on trial a fortnight ago.
It is unclear whether the experienced full-back is still with the club, but pre-season friendlies naturally offer an opportunity to field trialists if it is deemed beneficial.
Sunderland may not choose to explore that avenue, but have the scope to if they desire.