Sunderland looked to be challenging for a Europa League position in January before going into a slump that lasted for most of the rest of the season. After retooling over the summer, how are Steve Bruce's men going to fare in the 2011/12 season. Simon Walsh of Roker Report fame has you covered.
Well we're coming to the end of the summer, and I couldn't be happier as proper football returns.
It's been a mixed summer for my beloved Sunderland, at the beginning of the transfer window we were up in arms about the sale of our most promising youth player in decades to Liverpool. Many, including myself, refused to accept it was even happening until there he was at Melwood. The collective groan on Wearside was "here we go again" as we saw a squad depleted by injuries, begin to look even lighter.
However, it only took two weeks for us all to be saying "Jordan who?" as the signings came in to the Academy Of Light on an almost daily basis, as Steve Bruce filled a variety of needs, without actually addressing our main ones.
Keiren Westwood seems to be a fine keeper from the pre-season so far, and with Craig Gordon either on the treatment table or being edged towards the door, the Irish international seems an astute signing as he'll challenge Simon Mignolet for the Number 1 jersey.
Defensive reinforcements were also added as Wes Brown & John O'Shea arrived from Manchester United. O'Shea in particular delighting the fans, as he's long been a top defender and his versatility could prove invaluable. Wes Brown looks to have sewn up a starting spot too (for as long as he's fit anyway) and we expect him to be Titus Bramble's new partner at the heart of the defence. One area Steve Bruce failed to improve however (at time of writing) is the left-back position. Phil Bardsley was our Player Of The Season last year in the position, but it looks as though Bruce will be giving Kieran Richardson a second (or is it third?) crack at the position. He's looked promising preseason, but I do worry for when it matters.
Into midfield, and we're all wondering what the best combination is following the arrivals of Craig Gardner, Sebastian Larsson and David Vaughan. The preference on Roker Report is for a 4-3-3, however it would appear Steve Bruce doesn't see it that way, and is determined to go with four in midfield, leaving us with a problem on the left. We've tried any number of options, all with varying degrees of success, but when it comes to that position I'd wager that the spending isn't over yet.
Now in attack, we're light on options again, but they're all highly exciting. Asamoah Gyan will be leading the line alone on almost every occasion he's fit, but will be ably supported by Stephane Sessegnon in a free role behind the Ghanaian. In addition, we've added two of the hottest striking prospects in world football - Ji Dong-Won, who has had a great pre-season, and the exciting talent of Connor Wickham, although I'd strongly urge fans not to expect too much from those two too soon as they look like being bedded in slowly.
Of course in amongst the flurry of signings there was the one that got away - Charles N'Zogbia - The move which was on, off, on, off, on, off, on, oh I don't bloody care anymore. I'm thankful he's actually signed for a massive club in the Midlands if only to end this non-stop snoozefest. Arsenal fans may well have been bored to tears by the Cesc Fabregas saga, but at least people are saying stuff on that front as opposed to us fans who were working ourselves up, then expressing our disappointment at absolutely nothing than our own rumours on an hourly basis.
So what do we expect for this forthcoming season? It's always difficult to judge, so I'll go with what we'd all be happy with, at least I think anyway. We're looking for a top ten finish. Sure we got one last year, but we'd like it to be a bit more comfortable this time around. Plus a proper run at the cups would make a nice change. European football remains a dream as opposed to a goal. Of course it's much more likely we'll suffer our now annual mid-season slump and do absolutely nothing as opposed to anything mentioned so far.
Suckers for punishment, you can catch all the latest musings on matters Sunderland over on Roker Report. We might be viewed as a small team in some parts, but by-jove, it's rarely boring.