Sunderland travel to the Hawthorns on Saturday with manager Steve Bruce all too aware of his side’s inability to pick up points on their travels last term. Their dismal record away from the Stadium of Light provided Bruce with a headache before returning to office in June. With that in mind, Bruce’s moves in the transfer market have increased the versatility of a squad that was all too predictable on the road last season. Bruce admitted that his side may have been too open in certain games last season, and that his team need to be more content with coming away with a point, rather than empty handed. Yet Bruce could rarely stray from the 4-4-2 system last season. It worked so well at home, as Sunderland notched wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham. Questions, therefore, have been asked concerning his charges mentality and approach to away games.
Lee Cattermole’s suspension and an injury to John Mensah means Bruce will be forced into changes as he prepares for the clash with the Baggies, but he could freshen things up further. Of his forward options, Danny Welbeck, Fraizer Campbell and Martyn Waghorn have experience of playing on the wing, which could see Sunderland evolve from their traditional formation. Following an impressive debut season in the Premier League, Jordan Henderson started this campaign with an encouraging display in central midfield. The 20-year-old’s ability to perform on both the right and in the middle could also prove invaluable to Bruce this season as he beds in foreign midfield recruits. The Sunderland boss will be all too aware of the heavy defeat West Brom suffered last weekend, and will expect his side to have learned their lesson from last season after Wigan put a 9-1 hammering from Tottenham behind them by overcoming the Black Cats. Bruce may set his side out with the intention of avoiding defeat but the temptation to nurture the partnership between Campbell and Darren Bent may prove more fruitful against the newly-promoted Albion.
Meanwhile, World Cup star Cristian Riveros is settling in at his new club quicker than anticipated. Following the signing of fellow Paraguayan Paolo da Silva last summer, Bruce claimed that in his experience of managing South American imports that it could take “up to a year before seeing the best of them.” Riveros came off the bench to make his Premier League bow in the draw with Birmingham, having only returned from scoring on international duty the day before. But with a full week of training (and more importantly getting to know his team-mates) under his belt, he hopes to repay the fans after his debut was greeted with a resounding applause. He told the club’s official website: “It was amazing, the stadium, the pitch, the fans, everything was so impressive. When I came on the pitch, the reception I received was amazing from the Sunderland fans. That made me really happy and gives me much greater confidence in adapting to live and play here and I hope I can repay their faith by adapting quickly to the team, the place and my team-mates and life in Sunderland.”
There has been further movement in a hectic transfer window for the club as Matthew Kilgallon joined Middlesbrough on a season-long loan. Kilgallon found himself down the pecking order following the defensive recruits of Nedum Onohua and Titus Bramble, although the nature of the deal suggests he may have a future on Wearside. With just 12 days to go before the close of the window, more movement is expected. Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney remain at the club despite not being given squad numbers for the season.
Following the sale of Sunderland’s ‘Caribbean King’ – Kenwyne Jones- to Stoke last week, eight teenagers from the tropical continent have been given the chance to stake their claim to the throne. The third annual Digicel soccer clinics have been completed, and the youngsters will head to the Academy of Light for a week’s trial. The group were chosen by former Liverpool legend John Barnes who holds trial days throughout the Caribbean and Central America before nominating players to experience seven days of life at a Premier League academy. From there academy manager Ged McNamee will run the rule over the group, in the hope that they have the desired skill levels and determination to earn a scholarship contract at Sunderland.