Tony Mowbray makes Championship prediction and explains why tough Sunderland pre-season is key

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray is expecting a stronger Championship this time around

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Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray hopes that the club's pre-season tour of the US will set up his squad for what looks set to be a challenging Championship campaign.

Mowbray believes that the standard in the second tier will rise this year, with Leicester City, Southampton and Leeds United all determined to bounce straight back to the Premier League.

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The Black Cats are training in high heat in the US, and beat San Antonio FC 3-1 in the opening fixture of their tour.

They face New Mexico United on Wednesday evening before closing the trip with a final fixture against North Carolina FC.

With all four summer signings on the trip, the head coach hopes it will bring his evolving group together and that the conditions will help get them in the right condition for a tough campaign.

Sunderland surpassed all expectations by finishing sixth last time out, and Mowbray believes his young squad should approach the campaign with confidence.

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"What's good is the young players will be integrated into the group and will be living with the players," Mowbray said.

"In football clubs you normally come into work and go home at, depending when you train in the afternoon or not, half past one or half past four and then you're off home. When you're away on a trip together it's 24 hours a day with each other and hopefully that will help the young players integrate into the group.

"There is a lot of travelling, the heat will be hard but the camaraderie of the group, understanding, the young players, that we have to be relentless this year. The league looks so much tougher on paper, the games look really tough, but we should look forward to it.

"The games looked tough at the start of last season and we managed to punch above our weight, so that's the aim again, to be relentless, to keep going, to give every team a game, to be really competitive and find the right balance week in, week out of players that can help us out of possession and be resilient but also have those creative players. We had that last year with Amad, Pat, Jack, who were all amazing. Let's see what the end product looks like at the end of the window, how strong the team is, how many bodies we have in and look forward with real positivity going into the season, that's the plan. And to try and improve. Incremental improvement is something I've always believed in, we have to try and get better year on year and keep developing.

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"Whether that transmits into points and wins and goals, let's wait and see. But we'll try to make all the individual players better and if we can make them better, the team should be stronger."

Sunderland close out their pre-season campaign with fixtures against Real Mallorca at home and Hartlepool United at Victoria Park, before Ipswich Town visit the Stadium of Light to begin the Championship season.