Pete Sixsmith, quick off the mark, has already booked one must-do trip of recent seasons – if I say the last but one was a match of eight goals and we scored none of them, you’ll get the drift – and is raring to go. Here he casts an eye over the fixtures for 2016-17 (listed in full, though subject to changes, at https://safc.blog/2016/06/talk-about-tough-manchester-city-away-to-start-chelsea-away-to-finish/. Not a bad opening sequence, he reckons, though we’ve got to break with another recent tradition and get early points on the board …
Eagerly awaited on Wearside and Teesside and studiously ignored on Tyneside, the FA Premier League, no longer sponsored by Barclays, hit the screens of an expectant nation this morning.
Sunderland, now celebrating a 10th successive year in the league, are now one of its longest serving members having spent 16 of the last 21 years in it. For all that we have achieved very little, we have a kind of stickability that keeps us at the top table.
We open, not in Venice but at Eastlands, where we will provide Pep Guardiola with his first look at what the Premier League is all about. He comes from Barcelona via Bayern Munich to spread his ideas about the beautiful game and he will come up against Lee Cattermole. This may lead to Guardiola seriously considering whether he has made a wise choice.
He will certainly be impressed by the 3,000 Sunderland fans who will make their way to East Manchester for what could be a very interesting game.
Alas, the chances of it being played on a Saturday at 3pm are about as remote as Russian ultras taking up Morris Dancing (although they might enjoy hitting each other with the sticks) so we will have to wait and see whether it is Friday night, Saturday lunchtime, Saturday evening, Sunday or Monday night. Wasn’t life easier when all the games kicked off at the same time on the same day?
We then play not Verona, but at the Stadium of Light and the visitors are our nearish neighbours from down the A19. They, and the press, will try to turn it into a local derby but it isn’t really. There is some overlap of fans but not in significant numbers. I suppose that in the absence of our Tyneside Pals, it will have to do.
Bank Holiday weekend we are off, not to Cremona but to Southampton, scene of that oh so disappointing 1-1 draw last April.
The B and B is booked in Salisbury and whenever the game is played we are guaranteed a fine weekend away. It could be interesting; they have lost their manager and they may lose players before the season starts.
In fact, all three games give us a chance to get off to a reasonable start. How well will City be prepared for their new manager’s debut? Will he adapt quickly to the intensity of the competition? Will he have a decent central defensive pairing by August or will Mangala and Otamendi still be there? Will they have a new attacking star to work with Aguero? Previous managers have failed to find one and Dzeko has gone while Bony may well be following him.
What kind of line up will Karanka unleash on us? He never seemed to know what his best team was last year. Will the likes of Adomah, Rhodes and Gibson rise to the occasion? Will Karanka spit his dummy out again?
Who will be the new Southampton manager? Will it be Frank de Boer? Is David Moyes in the running? Will Pelle line up against Giaccherini after Italy’s wonderful win in the Euros?
It would be nice to pick up at least one win out of those three. The main reason for us struggling for the last three years has been an inability to win games early on. Win one or even two of them and a wee bit of momentum is created before we head, not for Parma or Mantua or Padua but back to the SoL and the visit of Everton.
We follow that with a visit to Spurs, home games with Palace and West Brom and then a trip to our least favourite city, Stoke. By that time we could be sitting on the edge of the top four – or we could be looking for a new manager; eight games in is the usual tipping point.
Generally, the list looks a bit flat. Last year, apart from the derby games, there were visits to Bournemouth and Watford to look forward to, grounds where we had not played for a number of years. This year, Burnley and Hull are fresh in the memory and the Riverside hardly gets the adrenalin flowing.
In fact, the only “new” ground is the Olympic Stadium where those lovable cockney knees up merchants, West ‘Am are now tenants. We go there in October and can expect the usual cheery welcome from the East End as we negotiate the pie and eel shops of the Westfield Shopping Mall at Stratford and we slide down that strange helter skelter that Boris had built in the stadium grounds.
Old Trafford on Boxing Day is dull, Liverpool on the day after New Years Day not much better. Ther is a Bonfire Night trip to Bournemouth, a Saturday day out in South Wales and even a daytime trip to that dump known as Selhurst Park.
It must be so much better in the Championship, contemplating visits to Rotherham, Burton and Brighton. I shall ask my black and white friends how they feel about it.