Sunderland’s pre-season programme comes to an end tonight with the trip to Middlesbrough – but who has caught the eye this summer?
Our Sunderland writers Phil Smith and Richard Mennear give their views on the best performer, best youngster, biggest concern and biggest surprise from the four friendly games so far, with the League One opener against Charlton Athletic just around the corner.
PS: Lynden Gooch looks ready to star this season, but it is impossible to look past summer signing Dylan McGeouch.
Darron Gibson had a positive run of form around the Christmas period, but aside from that, Sunderland have for some time been desperately lacking a midfielder capable of setting the tempo in games.
McGeouch has looked a class apart this summer and landing him on a free looks like a mightily impressive bit of business from Jack Ross.
RM: Dylan McGeouch has been the stand-out performer this summer, dictating play and making Sunderland tick from his deep-lying central midfield position.
But right up there alongside him has been Chris Maguire.
The forward is not an out-and-out striker but has flourished for Sunderland either out wide or in the No.10 support role behind the main striker.
His assist for Josh Maja’s opening goal against St Mirren was superb, as was his deft cross for Lynden Gooch’s winner against Grimsby. His movement is superb.
PS: Benji Kimpioka made a strong impression in the youth set-up and has carried that form into the new campaign.
Ross will be eager to protect him as he develops and it seems unlikely that he will be a central figure in the coming campaign.
The hectic schedule and a number of Checkatrade trophy games could nevertheless see him make his first competitive senior appearance this season and everything in his career thus far suggests he’ll be able to handle it.
RM: Bali Mumba. The academy product is only 16-years-old and it is wise not to put too much pressure on his shoulders, but he has caught the eye in his appearances this summer.
Cool, calm and composed on the ball, nothing seems to faze the teenager.
He made his Sunderland debut against Wolves in the final game of last season and made an instant impression on Jack Ross in training.
He could see more first team action given the sheer number of games Sunderland will play.
PS: Sunderland need a proven centre-forward but they could still do with some added height throughout the team.
Ross is acutely aware of the need to have a team capable of competing physically in League One.
A move for George Evans was designed to add some greater competitiveness in midfield and it’s an area that still needs addressing.
Glenn Loovens looks a canny addition but another imposing centre-back would be welcomes.
RM: Of all the summer signings to date, the biggest question mark is over the head of Alim Ozturk.
He played half an hour against Darlington and was at fault for the goal before going off injured.
He made his return against St Mirren and is still very much getting up to speed.
He was good in the air, but looks to have a mistake in him and could struggle against the quicker League One attackers.
PS: The signing of Chris Maguire raised a few eyebrows after a difficult season with Bury, but he has been excellent so far and it would be a surprise if he did not start against Charlton Athletic.
Maguire is not an orthodox winger and is not particularly quick, but his movement more than makes up for that and crucially, his final ball has been good.
Ross seems keen on playing with a flexible front three and Maguire’s versatility looks like it could be a real asset in the coming campaign. Above all else, his work rate has been second to none.
RM: Jack Ross will have been pleasantly surprised by the depth of quality coming through the club’s academy.
Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman are now both first team regulars, Gooch in particular enjoying a superb pre-season.
They are already considered the old guard with the next generation hot on their heels; Benjamin Kimpioka has nine pre-season goals (eight for the U23s and one for the first team), while Bali Mumba continues to shine, Denver Hume has been reliable at left-back, while Luke Molyneux and Josh Maja have done well.
Elliot Embleton will rejoin the squad after his England U19 duties. Plenty of encouragement for Ross.