Improving on last season will be tough for Sunderland – but not impossible

Football returns to the Stadium of Light this weekend - are we ready for it? Matthew Keeling reports

Football of sorts returns to Sunderland tomorrow, as they take on Real Mallorca at the Stadium of Light. A home friendly, the first since the glitzy visit of Hull City in 2021, sees the lads finally face what should be some tougher opposition, with Mallorca finishing 9th in La Liga last season.

Following the Mallorca clash, there is just the trip to Hartlepool United before Ipswich visit Wearside next Sunday, in the season curtain-raiser. Are we ready for the season to return then?

If I’m honest, I am quite enjoying it not being here. The lovely Ashes, stress-free Saturdays not ruined by ‘Trevor Kettle’, and the ability to stay in the pub rather than leave it at 2:30 to get wet walking to the match. This, I’m sure will all change once it returns, just think back to how gutted you feel when the season ends.

As the resident pessimist you could probably be forgiven for thinking I just hate it and why do I bother. Au contrair. A matchday is one of my favourite things. I see my mates, my family and I’m long past letting what happens at the actual game define my day, so largely have a great day regardless of the result – if we’re getting tanked, I just leave, so there is that.

Last season saw a return to truly great matchdays after Covid (which is not over, by the way), ruined them for a year or so, and we finally managed to get out of the League One hellhole. The team was great to watch, and even when they weren’t it didn’t matter too much because there was so little expectation as a newly-promoted, and very young, side.

This year is a little different, and I won’t be expecting an easy season as you can see from my entry into the prediction article. Sunderland did so well last season. The resilience, the quality and at times the maturity they showed was remarkable, and we came oh so close to something really, really special.

I don’t need to go into transfers and what is lacking again, but I just wanted to stress that when you hear, or read what I’m saying, I’m not ‘negative’ because I think it’s funny, or I hate everything.

The league on paper is much tougher and without going into detail I think the squad still needs work. There is time to do so, of course, and Bradley Dack is an addition I like with the experience and hopefully quality he will bring.

My worry with the young squad is if they get off to a bad start, or if we have the same bad luck with injuries again, what will happen. First and foremost, I hope we are in a better position in terms of cover than last season, and that the ludicrous striker situation doesn’t happen again.

My opinion is we will have a decent season, a top half finish. I feel improving or matching last season will be difficult, but not impossible. I guess I always stand on the side of caution. Until we beat Ipswich, then of course we will be winning the league.

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening to me as always, and enjoy the season which I will never be saying is dead.