Chris Young: Sunderland need a survival rollover to begin the new campaign on the front foot
The opening skirmishes of the campaign are supposed to be relaxed, intriguing and hopeful affairs when players gradually knock off the rust from a summer under the Dubai sun.
But in two of the last three years, the opening two months of competitive action have been utterly dispiriting and so nearly fatal for Sunderland.
Tallies of one point from eight games in 2013-14, and three from nine last time around, were appalling and left Sunderland playing a Russian Roulette game of catch-up.
Salvation for that start was in the cargo hold when the January signings flew in to Wearside last season, yet Sunderland still needed a remarkable run of just one defeat out of their final 11 games to ultimately beat the drop.
Sunderland cannot afford to be caught in the blocks again next season, and, with Sam Allardyce at the helm, there shouldn’t be a repeat of those hapless starts. The organisation of an appropriate pre-season is a step in the right direction for one.
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But even under Martin O’Neill in 2012-13 and Gus Poyet two years later, Sunderland hardly raced off the line at full pelt when they heard the starter’s gun.
After the first 12 games – almost the first third of the season – Sunderland had 12 points in 12-13 and 13 in 13-14.
Roughly averaging a point per game is respectable (it was Allardyce’s target for much of last season), yet it doesn’t allow players to stop looking over their shoulders nervously at the relegation fight. It’s an omni-present worry which takes its toll psychologically.
Just look at how Watford and Bournemouth were able to coast to the finish line after excellent first halves of the campaign had made them more or less safe.
Sunderland need better next season if they are to end the cycle of annual toil, yet the prospects of building momentum early doors haven’t been helped by the fixture list for the first five games.
The trip to Manchester City for Pepe Guardiola’s first game in charge leaves Sunderland facing a huge task to end a seven-year wait for an opening day victory.
No, City aren’t going to be a finely-tuned Guardiola machine at that stage, yet the title favourites will still be desperate to impress the new gaffer.
But it doesn’t get a lot easier after that.
A Wear-Tees derby in the opening home game is arguably the worst time to face a Boro side who will be boisterous after promotion and hungry to prove a point in the first Premier League meeting between the sides for seven-and-a-half years.
Then there are two sides who will hope for a new manager bounce in Southampton and Everton, followed by another of the title hopefuls in Spurs.
On the flip side of the coin, opponents won’t be salivating at the prospect of facing Sunderland early on, particularly now that Allardyce has stamped his mark on this side.
Sunderland have proved their qualities of resilience and determination, and they should still be bursting with confidence at the manner of their performances over the last four months.
The Black Cats can – and should – take inspiration from Leicester after their escape act 12 months ago.
Nobody is expecting them to follow the Foxes to the Premier League crown, but they need a rollover from the euphoria of May.
Do that in the first 10 games and Allardyce’s men really can head towards more tranquil waters.