Club Focus – Sunderland – Out with the old and in with the new as Black Cats aim for winning start

Sunderland face Birmingham City at the Stadium of Light on Saturday in the first game of the new Premier League season. With a late spell of comings and goings the team that runs out to face the Blues will have a very different look to the one that finished last season.

Steve Bruce will hope his Sunderland side gets off to a winning start on Saturday against his former club Birmingham City. The side that enters the fray might well be unrecognizable from the team that contested the final game of last season. A late flurry of incomings and outgoings means the side moves ever closer to one that Steve Bruce can call his own. Expectation on Wearside will undoubtedly be sky high tomorrow and Sunderland are favourites to get off to a winning start to the season. Birmingham at home is the type of game the Black Cats will be expected to gain three points from if the club are to meet the rising expectation from their fanatical support and progress from last season’s lower mid-table finish.

There was a surprise outgoing at the club this week with Kenwyne Jones moving to Stoke City for a reported £8 million. The news came as somewhat as a surprise as for a brief period it left the Black Cats with just two recognized strikers, days before the beginning of the league campaign: “My aim is to build a team with the hunger, drive and determination to take Sunderland to the next level. You need a big heart to play at this club, there’s an expectation here, and rightly and I’m determined that we’ll give the fans what they want” said Bruce revealing why the club had accepted Stoke’s bid. He had after all hinted last season that he found it hard to motivate his player: “There has always been a frustration with me and I think with supporters who have watched Kenwyne that you see and abundance of talent but it has not come out often enough for us for whatever reason.” He however insisted the move was good for all parties saying: “this is a good deal for all concerned and we wish Kenwyne well for the future.”

Jones joined Sunderland at the beginning of the 2007-08 season and made 101 appearances for the club scoring 28 goals. He often frustrated fans with his lackadaisical approach, carefree attitude and languid style. However, it was largely down to his goals during his first season at the club that kept them in the Premier League and in a position to build to their current position of relative stability. He appeared to be laying the foundations to the building of a fruitful striking partnership last season, often linking well with Darren Bent. Bruce may be keeping his cards close to his chest as to how he plans to deploy the players at his disposal in the upcoming league campaign and Fraizer Campbell’s goal scoring exploits in pre-season may well have secured him a starting position up front, but even sitting on the bench, Jones will be a significant option that the Sunderland manager will not have.

On the other hand, the Sunderland defence was bolstered by the acquisition of two new signings this week. The deal to sign John Mensah was finally made official, Sunderland agreeing a season long loan deal with Lyon. Due to ongoing back trouble, Ghana’s World Cup captain made limited starts last season but was generally very effective when he played for the Black Cats last season and if he can put his injury troubles behind him the club has a very effective player for the season. The North East club also completed the signing of former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha who has also joined the club on a season long loan deal. The Nigerian born player can play at centre-back or at right-back, and the full back position is one in which there is a current void with the club’s failure to capture Alan Hutton. Finally, the exit of Jones perhaps prompted the acquisition of striker Danny Welbeck on a season long loan from Manchester United. The nineteen year old becomes the fourth senior striker Bruce now has at his disposal with Bent, Campbell and Martin Waghorn also in contention.

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