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Sunderland finally getting their act together - Interview
Monday, 25th Oct 2021 16:47 by Clive Whittingham

Ahead of Tuesday’s League Cup tie with Sunderland we caught up with Dave, who’s been loitering on our message board, and the Top Dogs Sunderland Podcast, on a club that finally seems to be getting its act together after years of farce and decline.

How has the season started for you guys?

Dave: Our season has started well, well until this weekend when we lost to Charlton. Won 14, drawn one, lost three in all competitions. We are playing an attacking style which the fans are enjoying. We have built a young team with pace and no little skill and want to get the ball forward quickly.

Top Dogs: Season has started very well for us, been on a winning run at home, just starting to win away from home. We won all six of the home games prior to the weekend loss to Charlton, but had a bit of a worrying couple of away games where we drew at Fleetwood 2-2 after being 2-0 up and lost 4-0 to Pompey on a pitch you could probably more accurately describe as a swimming pool. But we have won twice away since and look to have turned that around. The way we are playing is very good and we are definitely reaping the rewards for that style.

Sunderland League One and League Cup* results so far…
Sunderland 2-1 Wigan McGeady pen 17, Stewart 53 – Edwards 15
Port Vale 1-2 Sunderland* Procter 67 – Hawkes 40, O’Brien pen 50
MK Dons 1-2 Sunderland Parrott 56 – Stewart 42, Embleton 52
Burton 1-0 Sunderland Smith 66
Sunderland 1-0 Wimbledon Winchester 64
Blackpool 2-3 Sunderland* Lavery 3, Bowler 87 – O’Brien 12, 57, 90
Sunderland 3-1 Wycombe Stewart 14, 83, Embleton 18 – Wheeler 90
Sunderland 2-1 Accrington Neill 15, Winchester 58 – Nottingham 30
Fleetwood 2-2 Sunderland Morton 81, Garner pen 90 – Stewart 19, McGeady pen 76
Wigan 0-2 Sunderland* Broadhead 26, O’Nien 54
Sunderland 1-0 Bolton Winchester 17
Sunderland 5-0 Cheltenham Wright 11, Stewart 28, 38, O’Nien 65, Dajaku 66
Portsmouth 4-0 Sunderland Harness 19, Brown 33, Marquis 45, 61
Gillingham 1-2 Sunderland Lloyd pen 24 – O’Brien 45, Stewart 54
Crewe 0-4 Sunderland Thomas og 25, Stewart 32, 55, Dajaku 73
Sunderland 0-1 Charlton Stockley 66

Is Lee Johnson the man to finally get Sunderland heading back in the right direction? Pros and cons of him so far?

Dave: Well when he was appointed the jury was very much out, but he has won the fans over. However, your question is the wrong question as LJ only form part of the set up. Other key figures are Kristjaan Speakman, director of football, who plays a massive role in shaping the club and style of play along side recruitment team , including James Young as head of data and analysis . Together they are a strong team, LJ is the most dispensable of these roles. As a unit this group appear to have the skills to build a really coring future for the club. So the short answer to your question is yes LJ is the right man to take Sunderland back up through the leagues.

Top Dogs: I hope so. Johnson has more of a head coach role here and if he sees something wrong he will change it. He’s the perfect fit for us - young, hungry, very good tactically, loves using the young players and plays a great style of play. People doubted him at end of the season but it was clear he just needed his own players and he has got that and no one has ever looked back since.

What summer transfer business did you do and how did you rate your window?

Dave: Our summer transfer window has been the best for over ten years, we have removed a lot of the dead wood brought in by previous managers, reducing the wage bill at the same time and brought in real quality. Out have gone the likes of Dobson, Remi Matthews, Power, and even Wyke , who in reality were journeyman League One players, some like Wyke had the ability to do well for a season in League One but not the ability to go further, some like Grigg who were just taking the money and clearly didn’t want to be here.

In have come players with the potential to grow with the club. One significant signing is that Of Cirkin, England U20 left back who turned down a contract at Spurs to move to Sunderland on a permanent contract. Other key signings include Hoffman from Bayern Munich, he has looked a different class in goal since joined, at the same time we also signed German U20 sideman Dajaku, sort of from Bayern as well, he had been on loan to Berlin who had an option to buy him ,which they activated as soon as they knew that he wanted to sign for Sunderland, so he is here on loan with an option to sign him on a permanent deal at the end of the season.

We have also made good use of the loan system as well, seventeen year old Doyle signed from Man City for at least one season ( rumours are that if we go up he could stay here for a second season), is highly thought of both at Man City and in the England set up and is seen as a future England star. Broadhead from Everton has also impressed and was looking the part until he picked up an injury and is unlikely to feature against you but will be a key player for us as the season progresses. A couple of useful out of contract signings of note are Cory Evans and Alex Pritchard.

Two others who are like new signings are Dan Neil, a 19-year-old who has been pulling the strings in midfield with the ability to find a pass from nowhere to split open a defence and Embleton, who was on loan at Blackpool last year playing a big part in their promotion, sadly he will be suspended for Tuesday so he won’t play. All in all our summer business has been beyond our wildest expectations and today there is not a signing we would say has failed. Normally by this stage at least half of not all of the new signings have failed.

Top Dogs: We had a very good window bringing in mostly youth but also with a blend of experience in Corry Evans and Alex Pritchard who was very highly rated back when he was at Spurs. We also has promoted a lot of academy lads and give them a pathway, for example Dan Neil who starts most games.

Ins >>> Dennis Cirkin, 19, LB, Spurs, Undisclosed >>> Niall Huggins, 20, RB, Leeds, Undisclosed >>> Alex Pritchard, 28, AM, Huddersfield, Free >>> Corry Evans, 30, CM, Blackburn, Free >>> Callum Doyle, 17, CB, Man City, Loan >>> Frederick Alves, 21, CB, West Ham, Loan >>> Nathan Broadhead, 23, CF, Everton, Loan >>> Leon Dajaku, 20, ST, Union Berlin, Loan >>> Ron-Thorben Hoffman, 22, GK, Bayern, Loan

Outs >>> Callum McFadzean, 27, LB, Crewe, Free >>> Remi Matthews, 27, GK, Palace, Free >>> Max Power, 27, CM, Wigan, Free >>> Chris Maguire, 32, RW, Lincoln, Free >>> Josh Scowen, 28, CM, Wycombe, Free >>> George Dobson, 23, DM, Charlton, Free >>> Charlie Wyke, 28, CF, Wigan, Free >>> Anthony Patterson, 21, GK, Notts County, Loan >>> Jack Diamond, 21, LW, Harrogate, Loan >>> Will Grigg, 30, CF, Rotherham, Loan >>> Josh Hawkes, 22, LM, Tranmere, Loan >>> Conor McLaughlin, 29, RB, Released >>> Grant Leadbitter, 35, CM, Retired

What sort of team are you likely to field in this - might be a stupid question but league is surely a priority and the fixture list in League Two is ridic.

Dave: As to the team for Tuesday I would expect a few changes for the team which lost to Charlton with a number of squad players to start, such as Dajaku, Gooch, Evans and Alves (he is a Danish U21 international on loan from West Ham). So I think it will be a strong team, some might even argue stronger that the team against Charlton.

Top Dogs: I’m not sure of but it probably will be a blend of youth and players needing match sharpness. Elliot Embleton has had a three game ban so will be needing games to keep up to speed. I’d expect a strong team with a place in the final eight up for grabs.

Star men and weak links in the team?

Dave: For the star men you would have to look at Ross Stewart and Dan Neil. I have already talked about Neil, Ross Stewart has been outstanding this year, leading the line, holding it up well and bringing others into the game, he has a good first touch and works his socks of. Weak links, I would have to say inexperienced players learning their trade who can make the odd mistake and giving away silly free kicks in dangerous positions.

Top Dogs: Dan Neil if he plays, if not Embleton or Dajak. Weak link, goalkeeper Lee Burge.

What's the ownership situation at Sunderland now, after years of turmoil and Netflix docs...

Dave: On the new owners, where do you start? They are chalk and cheese with the last bunch of charlatans who obviously thought that we would be promoted at the first attempt then they could flip the club for a profit. They were willing to sell the vast majority of the talent in the Academy for peanuts to pay the electric bill rather than develop them. In comparison the new owners lead by Kyril Louis Dreyfus, who is only 24 have transformed the club from top to bottom bringing in top quality appointments at all levels of they club and changing the mindset of the club. He might be young but he grew up in a family who owned Marseille, and with that have come key links to others in the football world at the top level and an understanding of how to play hardball when buying players.

Top Dogs: We have a plan, we are looking forward and not just into the next month. We are looking to build relationships with the city and local businesses and have just agreed a deal for RoRack Shipping to be our back of shirt sponsor - a local shipping company. We can only seeing it going from strength to strength.

Prediction for this game, and the rest of your season?

Dave: My prediction for Tuesday is a good game with Sunderland winning 2-1 in our attempt to replicate QPR’s achievement of winning the League Cup from the third tier. In the league we will finish top.

Top Dogs:Prediction for the game - 2-1 to Sunderland and if we keep this form up then we will finish first comfortably as long as we keep on winning and don't get complacent

Links >>> Sunderland official website >>> Sunderland Echo – Local Paper >>> Roker Report – Blog >>> Not606 – Forum >>> Ready to Go – Forum

The Twitter @loftforwords, @SAFCTopDogsPod

Pictures – Action Images

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TacticalR added 19:08 - Oct 26
Thanks to Dave and Top Dogs.

Everyone sounds remarkably happy and confident this season after some bad times. It seems recruitment has been the key to reviving the club, with the net cast pretty wide if players are being picked up from Bayern and players or on loan from Man City.

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