Shooting practice for Sunderland training session – and Liam Bridcutt leads the way

Sunderland's training session
Sunderland's training session
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There were multi-pronged reasons behind Sunderland’s struggles last season, but they boiled to down to one overwhelming problem – goals... or the lack of them.

Gus Poyet set up a team to be defensively solid and keep hold of the ball, yet the lack of risk left Sunderland labouring to create a chance, let alone find the back of the net.

Only Burnley scored fewer times in the Premier League than the Black Cats, which was quite some feat considering Aston Villa managed just five from their opening 11 games.

It is no surprise then that Dick Advocaat is putting an emphasis on finishing during the training sessions out here in North America.

Watching Sunderland in the pristine surroundings of their training base at Santa Clara University, Advocaat and assistants Zeljko Petrovic and Paul Bracewell spent three-quarters of a 90-minute session drilling the players in shooting practice.

Every outfield player participated; shooting from different angles, 20 yards out.

Standing behind the goal, you appreciate two things.

One, the power that is generated by players at the top level.

And two, that those natural finishers – the likes of Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe – really do strike it sweetly; stroking the ball into the top corner, rather than wildly thrashing at it.

However, the biggest plaudits had to go to Liam Bridcutt, who managed the gravity-defying feat of lobbing Costel Pantilimon on the goal-line. It inevitably prompted a few chuckles.

But Sunderland’s training regime in California has been no laughing matter.

There’s been little opportunity to shake off the jet-lag by quietly reading a John Grisham, while lounging by the pool at the team’s five star hotel (where Hollywood comedian Kevin Hart has been staying prior to a show in San Francisco).

No, it’s been double training sessions every day, bar Wednesday, when there was just one after the Sacramento Republic friendly and the players got the chance to tour San Francisco harbour by boat.

Of those to impress so far in training, Fletcher has caught the eye. Emanuele Giaccherini is also impressing; reinforcing the belief that the Italian still has a big part to play for Sunderland if Advocaat can find the right position for him.

Advocaat’s regime will continue when Sunderland head north of the border to Canada, where the squad will be bolstered by the arrival of Jeremain Lens, Younes Kaboul, Adam Johnson, Sebastian Coates and Patrick van Aanholt.

Travelling-wise, it should be easier for Sunderland’s players in Toronto too – the ground and the training facilities are all in the downtown area of the city.

In California, the squad has been facing a 2-3 hour journey to get to Sacramento for the games, plus a 20-minute bus ride from the hotel to the training ground.

It’s preferable to training in Sacramento itself though, where temperatures reach 100 degrees by midday, compared to 85-ish in Santa Clara.

That’s what Newcastle have done since they arrived here, which can’t have been particularly beneficial for Mr Colback’s complexion.

But while the travelling may have been draining coming to California, it’s hardly a hardship working in glorious sunshine at luscious facilities.

Starting with the Toronto game next Wednesday, we’ll see if that leads to an upturn in pre-season performances.