The Opposition View - Sunderland
1) What are your expectations for the season?
In short, an improvement on last season.
Had the initial impact of Martin O'Neill been replicated throughout the entire season, i.e. had Steve Bruce not started the campaign, I think we could quite rightly hoped for a top-half finish. With a couple more new faces & the retention of Stephane Sessegnon I see no reason why we can't finish in the top-half this season. The squad remains largely the same as that which was superb under O'Neill for the first few months of his reign so why not?
The expectation, i.e. the bare minimum, has to be to equal last season's finish of 13th. We've already added more quality than we had last season so I cannot see that goal not being achieved.
2) Who are the player/s to look out for?
It's boring, and probably predictable to say, but Sessegnon is the key man, star man, whatever label you want to attach!
He has however missed a good chunk of pre-season with injury and is feeling his way back into full fitness. Such is the dearth of attacking talent available to MON that he will still feature despite probably not being 100 per cent fit. Our top-scorer last season from an advanced midfield/supplementary striker role, we'll be expecting double figures from him this season.
Irish international James McClean will also be key. He exploded onto the scene under O'Neill after Bruce refused to play someone he himself signed. As the story goes, a number of senior players at the club were so impressed by the former Derry City winger last term that they were begging Bruce to pick him, but to no avail. He's pacey, tricky, hard-working and possesses the same explosive quality that Sessegnon also has in abundance.
3) How do you feel Martin O`Neill has done so far as Sunderland boss?
The tail-off towards the end of last season was disappointing, but considering the size of the squad and the number of injuries suffered it was fairly inevitable. O'Neill is afterall all about winning the ball back quickly and that can be quite physically draining on a small squad.
So far so good though. He's moved on a few players who were a drain on resources and is keen to put his own mark on the squad but for one reason or another it just isn't happening in the transfer market. Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha have arrived on free transfers and look good additions on paper but more re-enforcements are needed.
4) If you could sign one more player this transfer window, who would it be and why?
I'm very much torn between a proper full-back as Kieran Richardson wants out and Phil Bardsley is sidelined for the foreseeable future. However, I'm going to go for a striker as we only have two senior forwards in Fraizer Campbell and Saha. Di Dong-Won and Connor Wickham are both 'ones for the future still' and the pursuit of Wolves' striker Steven Fletcher says that O'Neill is fully aware that another striker is desperately needed.
5) If you could offload any player from your team, who would it be and why?
Ahmed Elmohamady. Not disciplined enough to be a full-back, not intelligent or canny enough to be a winger. He is good in the air though - perhaps that's what Bruce saw in him!
6) Expected line up for the game?
Mignolet; Gardner, Cuellar, O'Shea, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Campbell.
7) What's your prediction for the game?
A tight affair with Sunderland still not in first gear and Reading smelling blood. 2-1 to the Black Cats.