Danny Graham has spent his post-season break doing special sessions in the gym – in a bid to prove his worth to Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat.
The striker is determined to be part of the Dutchman’s plans next season after being handed his chance to impress at the end of the last campaign.
And he has sacrificed much of time off by heading down daily to his gym, Club 29 Fitness, for special one-on-one strength and conditioning work.
It’s all part of the 28-year-old’s bid to stay at Sunderland next season after experiencing a remarkable turnaround in fortunes at the Stadium of Light.
Graham, who failed to score in his first 27 games for the club, was brought in from the cold by Advocaat for Sunderland’s relegation run-in, and responded with some of his best performances in a red and white shirt to help guide the Black Cats to safety.
The striker won a crucial penalty in the win against Stoke City and then opened his goal account with the first strike in a 2-0 win against Everton.
He gives everything, even in training. He never moans, he’s a real pro, you can see that.Dick Advocaat
Graham endured a difficult spell on Wearside after his £5million move from Swansea in 2011. He was shipped out on loan to Hull City, then Championship outfits Middlesbrough and Wolves as his Sunderland career looked over.
But he earned praise from Advocaat for his performances after the Dutchman took over from Gus Poyet.
Advocaat said: “He gives everything, even in training. He never moans, he’s a real pro, you can see that.
“I had no doubts when you saw him in training that he would get that goal.”
With doubts over the future of fellow striker Steven Fletcher, who has just 12 months left on his contract, Graham hopes his extra sessions have stolen him a march on his team-mates when they return to pre-season training this week.
Sunderland report back on Thursday for fitness tests, but players who were on international duty during the summer – such as John O’Shea, Seb Larsson, Fletcher and Costel Pantilimon – have been allowed an extra week off.
Sunderland’s first friendly is a week on Thursday at Darlington 1883 before they fly out to the United States for their pre-season tour.