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SUNDERLAND: Sunderland AFC: 2014/15 Season Preview

After a rollercoaster campaign of extreme highs and devastating lows encompassing a brutal relegation battle and a Capital One Cup final appearance at Wembley, the red-and-white army of fans at the Stadium of Light will be praying for mid-table security in the Premier League this time around.

Sunderland’s pre-season transfer plans hinge on the hoped-for signing of Liverpool forward Fabio Borini for a whopping £14m, but the deal has yet to progress due in part to the Italian’s reluctance to leave Anfield and a shoulder injury suffered on duty with the Reds in the United States recently.

Head Coach Gus Poyet pulled off a remarkable escape from relegation last term, with a late surge of form contributing to a rise that nobody saw coming. A hard-fought draw in April at Manchester City set the Black Cats on their way, prior to a four-match winning streak which sealed survival with a game to spare.

Poyet will be desperate to avoid such tribulations next season and insists a further four new signings are required within a week to supplement the squad having seen January signings Vergini, Alonso and Scocco all depart, along with out-of-contract stars Bardsley, Gardner and Colback.

Bosman recruits Billy Jones, Costel Pantilimon and Jordi Gomez have arrived thus far, alongside Chelsea left-back Patrick van Aanholt for an undisclosed fee. However, the Uruguayan supremo remains acutely aware of the urgent need for another raft of new faces before August 16th dawns. It’s thought a centre-back, playmaker, left-winger and a versatile full-back are on the shopping list as pre-season training begins to heat up.

Darlington, Carlisle United and Hartlepool United were all comfortably dispatched before Sunderland headed out to Portugal for three friendlies in the Algarve. That stint abroad will then be followed by two matches at a neutral venue back in the north-east against Real Betis and Udinese to round things off.

One feature of the matches so far is the use of several youngsters from the under-21 development team, which shows the lack of depth in the senior squad at this stage. They’ve done very well – French-born striker Mikael Mandron particularly - but more experience is vital to Sunderland’s hopes of a successful year.

Former loanee Marcos Alonso is said to be on the radar for full-back, while reported targets such as Atletico Madrid’s Christian Rodriguez. Chelsea man Christian Atsu and Roma defender Davide Astori have seemingly fallen by the wayside. Meanwhile, discussions to bring back Vergini and Borini rumble on. It all adds up to something of a stalemate on the transfer front that Sunderland must remedy with great haste.

Ex-Chelsea midfielder Poyet is determined to fully integrate his attractive brand of passing football at the Stadium of Light and is seeking out new additions of that ilk who will help develop his favoured style of play at the club. Spaniard Jordi Gomez is the epitome of the type of footballer that fits perfectly with Poyet’s philosophy and could well turn out to be the bargain of the summer as far as the north-east side are concerned.

Should additional signings take place in order to fill key positions, then Sunderland could well make a push for the top ten under the astute tutelage of Gus and his staff. However, further failings in the transfer market would leave them wide open to the strong possibility of yet another relegation scrap.

Main transfer targets: Fabio Borini (Liverpool), Santiago Vergini (Estudiantes), Marcos Alonso (Fiorentina)

Predicted final league position: 12th

New signings so far: Billy Jones (West Bromwich Albion), Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City), Jordi Gomez (Wigan Athletic), Patrick van Aanholt (Chelsea)

Young player to watch: Mikael Mandron (Striker)

Summary: Sunderland should have enough to stay safe from relegation this coming season, but will likely fall short of a fabled top-10 slot in the Premier League

Article by By David Lee Wheatley (Twitter: @davewh1980)

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