Testing home run for Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio.
Paolo Di Canio.
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SUNDERLAND’S 2013-14 season will start with three games in which they would hope to collect points – a home match to Fulham on August 17 followed by away trips to Southampton and newly-promoted Crystal Palace before the first international break of the campaign.

But Paolo De Canio’s side will need to start the Barclays Premier League season well, for a truly formidable run of home games comes after the opening day visit of Martin Jol’s Cottagers.

Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs all come to the Stadium of Light in consecutive home games leading into the festive programme.

And you have to feel sorry for the club’s attempt to promote their part-season tickets for the second half of the campaign, given how many of the big guns will have come and gone from the Stadium of Light before Christmas!

The festive fixtures see Sunderland travelling to Everton on Boxing Day and playing at home to Aston Villa on New Year’s Day – with the long away trip to new boys Cardiff City sandwiched in between.

The two derby games – always the most sought after games in the newly released fixture list – will this season offer Sunderland the best chance to draw blood first.

The opening derby will be held on Wearside, with the two sides provisionally due to meet at the Stadium of Light on October 26 while Sunderland will travel to St James’s Park on February 1 – just a few days after a midweek home clash with Stoke.

The timing of the derbies is not great news for ex-Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, whose newly-promoted Hull City side face the Black Cats immediately after both games. The results of the derby matches could well determine his reception from the fans.

Sunderland’s campaign ends as it begins – with a home game – this time against last season’s surprise Premier League success story, Capital One Cup winners Swansea.

But Sunderland will go into that match after a trip to David Moyes’s Manchester United at Old Trafford in the penultimate game – they face the defending Premier League champions at home on October 5.

And while Sunderland have a daunting run of home fixtures in the first half of the season, they also face a challenging end to the campaign with Manchester United just one of a string of difficult opponents to face.

In the last dozen games before the Swansea match, Sunderland’s opposition also include Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton and Chelsea – all but the Toffees away.

Kevin Phillips, if he signs on for another year at Crystal Palace, will make what will surely be his final Stadium of Light appearance when Ian Holloway’s Eagles come north on March 15.