Sunderland set their sights on the new Premier League season after a disappointing trip to Germany. Steve Bruce took his Sunderland side to play 1899 Hoffenheim, who finished 11th in last season’s Bundesliga. It was a lacklustre showing and the Black Cats slumped to a 3-1 defeat but the Sunderland manager insists things will be different when the league campaign gets underway.
There could be no debating who was the better side on Sunday at the Rhein-Neckar Arena as Hoffenheim tore into the Black Cats and were two goals up at half-time. Sunderland rallied in the second half and pulled one back with a scintillating Jordan Henderson free-kick, but the German outfit soon regained their two goal lead with the final goal of the day. It was a game that was reminiscent of the North East side’s below par away Premier League performances last season, as they struggled to keep the ball and were comprehensively out passed by the Bundesliga team. Steve Bruce pointedly took off Steed Malbranque, Bolo Zenden and Kenwyne Jones at half-time, replacing them with new signing Ahmed Al-Muhammadi, goal scorer Henderson and Jack Colback, who spent much of last year on loan at Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town. The departing players were all senior names and Bruce will not have been happy with their level of performance so close to the big kick-off.
Optimistic fans may hope it was a sign of things to come as the sudden introduction of two promising youngsters and a new signing did improve things markedly on the pitch, as the Wearsiders applied themselves more vigorously during the second half. With the likes of Colback, Jordan Cook and later Robbie Weir all getting themselves involved in a much improved performance, it was perhaps symptomatic of the fact that Sunderland will need these young players to come on next season in order to add much needed strength and depth to their squad. The introduction of Cook was of notable significance, it being his first senior appearance after sustaining, only nine months ago, cruciate ligament damage in a reserve game against Burnley. After the game Steve Bruce chose to focus on the league campaign that will get underway on Saturday, rather than what fans will hope will turn out to be a misleading end to his side’s pre-season: “I’m glad it’s over, we’ve got through it and the real ball comes out next week when it will be a lot, lot different.”
On to matters off the field and Sunderland continue to close in on a loan deal that will keep Ghanaian international defender John Mensah at the Stadium of Light for another season. Ghana’s World Cup captain arrived in the North East over the weekend and the deal is widely expected to be confirmed in the next few days. Two more new faces may be joining the Black Cats ahead of Saturday’s opener against Birmingham City if newspaper reports are to be believed. Steve Bruce is stepping up his bid to sign Manchester City’s Nedum Onuoha with City opening the way for the player to talk to other clubs. Bruce would also like to add Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck to his attacking armoury, with the England Under-21 player being allowed to leave Old Trafford on loan this season. The North East club could face competition for the signing, a particular stumbling block being the amount of games Welbeck is likely to get in the first team. With Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and the in-form Fraizer Campbell all potentially above him in the pecking order, it is thought that Sir Alex Ferguson may see Blackpool’s guarantee of regular first team football as a more beneficial move for him.
Finally, after missing out on a place in England’s ill-fated World Cup squad, Darren Bent was recalled to international duty by Fabio Capello but subsequently missed training on Monday due to injury. Sunderland’s top goal scorer last season was clearly benefitting from the Italian Coach’s intention to bring in new blood to his England set up, however, it was not all good news for the former Tottenham Hotspur front man as back trouble may have ruled him out of contention for the Hungary friendly and the player will now be a doubt for his club’s season opener. With six goals to his name in pre-season, Fraizer Campbell could well be in contention for a place in his favoured strikers role for the Premier League opener and any lingering injury doubt could hasten a loan deal for Danny Welbeck.