Voice of America: the stateside verdict is in – we’ll make top 10

Jake flies the flag for Robert Simmons

Robert Simmons has breezed across the Atlantic with fresh air and fresh thought since joining the ranks of Salut! Sunderland writers. Here, from his own blog, Only SAFC, is a cool look at the season ahead. He is optimistic and he’s currently from Georgia. Georgia off its mind, or a canny shout? …

It’s that time of year to make predictions for the upcoming season. It’s been a long summer with not much news coming out of the Sunderland camp but I for one and really looking forward to the season. Here are my predictions for the season ahead.

Who will be our top scorer?

Of course I want my answer to be Steven Fletcher, Jermain Defoe, or maybe even John Guidetti, but as of right now none of those players wear the red and white stripes of Sunderland.

With no significant signing to lead our top line it leads a list of players like Connor Wickham, Frazier Campbell, and Ji Dong-Won to choose from. There is always “the little magician” Stephane Sessegnon to consider as a candidate for most goals. Without new signings to choose from I’ll go with Sessegnon. Last year he finished with seven goals, one short of team leader Nicklas Bendtner who is of course gone and Sess will have to be the offensive catalyst if squad changes aren’t made.

**I opt to let my vote be changed to Defoe or Fletcher if one of them signs. If both sign I’ll fall out of my chair with joy and then choose Defoe for top scorer**

Who will lead the team in assists?

We have much better candidates for who will lead the club in assists over who will score the most goals. Last year Sessegnon led the club in assists but James McClean and Seb Larsson also provided a number of opportunities for teammates and both look to feature heavily in this year’s team. We lack a real creative central midfield player but young Jack Colback seems to be coming on strong as more than just a utility player but as a viable creative influence on the match.

For this season I expect James McClean to lead the club in assists. He came on so strong in the second half of last year and I expect him to continue to terrorize the left side of the field and swing in crosses for our forwards to latch on to. However, I think that Sess and Seb will be hot on his heals in the assist category.

Who starts the most games in goal?

This might seem like an easy answer. Simon Mignolet was the clear #1 choice last season for Martin O’Neill and not much has happened this summer to change that. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that if he’s given another chance to start between the sticks, Keiran Westwood will do just fine. I expect Mignolet to end up getting a majority of the starts, but I suspect Westwood will get 5-10 starts …

Breakout player?

This is a tough one to predict, because in order for it to be a breakout player it has to be someone who hasn’t featured much in the first team in the past. Options include players like Louis Laing or John Egan who play in the back, or maybe someone like Billy Knott who can play the Sessegnon role in the middle of the pitch.

You could also easily consider Ryan Noble as a candidate as he’s played decently when given the chance this pre-season. But in the end i’m going to go with a player we are all pretty familiar with but one who hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to impress. I think Ji Dong-Won is going to have a fine season and by the end of the year will be pushing for first team minutes. He still needs to beef up a little bit but his versatility as a striker and a player who can do well pushed a little more wide will make him a valuable asset to our attacking core.

Who will disappoint most?

This is a real downer of a category. You certainly don’t want to hex a player by predicting him to do poorly, but I think there is likely a player who will perform lower than the fans expectations of him.

Players like Sess, McLean, and Colback have such high expectations on them that it would be easy for them to perform less than we expect, but I get the feeling those guys will be alright this season. This may be a bit of a copout answer, but I don’t expect Phil Bardsley to do much this year. It was only two seasons ago that he finished as the player of the year for the club but I think his spot in the starting XI is very much in jeopardy and I don’t expect to see him start more than 10-15 matches this season.

Where will we finish in the league?

Ah, the question that we love to try and figure out. Will we exceed expectations and sneak in to the top 10 or will we have another mid table finish? Worse than that, will our lack of a dynamic goal scorer leave us stuck in a relegation battle? I think we’ll sign a striker or two, improve our midfield and maybe even add another defender by the end of the transfer window and I think we will have a strong side. In the end I expect us to finish right in the middle at 10th but we will give some of the bigger clubs fits this year. Another year with O’Neill leading us and another couple of transfer windows and we’ll be pushing for that top 10 finish and maybe even a spot in Europe (fingers crossed on that one).

How many points will we get off the Mags?

I’m going out on a limb, and this may be my lease likely prediction to come true, but i’m going to go with four points. We’ll take all three at home and sneak a draw on the road.
With that said I hate to say that they’ve had a good summer. They’ve kept their core players and even added a few. I expect they’ll have a decent year again.

* Those are my predictions. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know here or on twitter @onlysafc

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