Big thanks to rastrent and Roker Report, the SB Nation Sunderland blog for answering our questions.
1. Predictions for Sunderland this season are all over the map. I've seen everything from automatic promotion to relegation. What do you guys expect from Sunderland this season?
If you'd have asked that question before, or even during pre-season, I would have been hard-pressed to give you a confident answer either way. But that answer would have been: “to struggle”. A raft of injuries to our few remaining key players, promises of poverty from the CEO to the manager and the hurried manner in which we moved for Grayson after Derek McInnes fell through as successor to Moyes, all pointed to a very difficult season indeed, and raised many questions besides: when will our players be fit? Who replaces them? Are they any good? Can we afford 'any good'? If we can afford it, can this manager way down the list of job candidates get them playing like a team?
It's amazing what a month and a few points can do for confidence. Two thirds of the players we've brought in have shown signs of their ability, with McGeady setting the pace and Grabban hot on his heels. Players that we believed were disenchanted seem to be settling in under the new regime and, perhaps most importantly, Simon Grayson has shown himself to be a confident and constructive man-manager, an attribute sorely needed in the Sunderland dressing room.
While of course it's very early days and we're taking baby steps, it seems we were learning to walk before we run. Off the back of recent performances and considering there's both time left in the window to strengthen a position or two, and players like young Duncan Watmore chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch after a long layoff, I think the Championship are going to witness a Sunderland team with real fight, albeit on a shoestring budget.
2. Which Sunderland players should Leeds United fans be on the look out for?
There are a few, shockingly enough.
Well, Aiden McGeady is nobody's fool. He didn't have the best time of it over the last year or so and he's reached out and grabbed this opportunity with both hands; he's hit the ground running and he isn't looking back. He has skill, intelligence and a brilliant eye for a cross, not to mention a gem of a left foot. He's already endeared himself to the fans and has struck up a quick partnership with his fellow attackers. Frankly, he's dangerous in this league. Grabban has also shown he has a point to prove. It's his last chance at a big club really and he looks like he knows it. He's got pace and chases the ball down, he's good in the air and he looks up for a fight.
Didier N'dong is a player underrated by some, lord knows why. He's one of the hardest working players in our squad and has an intelligence that's beyond his tender years, though he still makes mistakes and can be overwhelmed without the right support. His energy levels match his age and he will make a nuisance of himself for your midfield, moving quickly to break up play in his area, going in strong for tackles and picking passes with one of the highest levels of accuracy in the team.
I want to give a shout to George Honeyman as well, local lad that's come up through the academy and scored two goals in two starts, both with class and finesse. He's got a motor in him and pressures teams with that same high-intensity as the rest of our academy are taught, something equally endearing about Watmore (thought he won't be playing). Honeyman is another that's taken his chance and seems to have no fear. I'm fully expecting his passionate participation.
Others depend on the selection and substitutions. If Khazri starts or comes on with good time to spare; he's probably our most mercurial player right now. He can have a terrible game and suddenly turn it on it's head in a half-second, or he can start well and continue that way. If I were a defender I'd be on him like white on rice. Vaughan has yet to seal the deal as far as scoring goes but his support play has proved it has a place. We're all waiting on his debut goal and it just might come against your defence, though it's not likely.
I suppose you should always keep one eye on Lee Cattermole, particularly in a game like this. He's giving it his all this season, he's come close to scoring twice now which shows the sort of pressure we're attacking with. A hint of aggression from your team and he's going to wipe someone out. We just love him and pray he doesn't get a red card.
3. Leeds have had a ton of changes in a short amount of time. What is your view of the business that Leeds have done this summer?
I can't claim to be a huge Leeds aficionado but at a glance I'd laugh that you've been lumbered with Vurnon Anita.
- cue uproarious laughter for a minute or so -
But really, I think this will be another season for Borthwick-Jackson to be bullied by the strength at this level, you'll be very lucky if you can get a tune out of him. But I suppose there's always a reason these young lads come through at the 'brand' clubs, and so there is always a possibility that the man to coax that tune will be Thomas Christiansen.
I'm sure you feel the same way, but you should chain Chris Wood to the ground at the centre circle and swallow the padlock key.
I feel for you, fan to fan. Sunderland fans understand the grim hope and uncertainty that comes from a lack of real options in the transfer window. Leeds have had a torrid time in recent years and it's reflected in the business you've done so far. That said – it's hard not to be underwhelmed in this transfer window, in this league. There's silly money thrown around from every angle and it's becoming more and more difficult to judge a player based on his transfer fee, even to the point that incoming players are arguably more likely to surprise because there's so little concrete evidence of their previous performances. We can all run to youtube for the obligatory 'goals and skills' video but the truth is that no one knows what they're really getting until it's too late to worry.
I'll give Thomas Christiansen and any future Leeds manager my full support, but not going to lie - I dream of Simon Grayson coming back.— Sean (@seankuk) August 4, 2017
4. Simon Grayson is still a popular figure at Leeds. Given the mess of the manager situation you guys had this summer (we can relate) how is he settling in and how do the fans feel about him?
Good. I'm comfortable that I speak for all Sunderland fans that Grayson has made all the right moves and said all the right things since he took the job. There was much trepidation considering the roundabout way in which his signature was gained: is he good enough? Does he understand the opportunity? Is he just a stop-gap or is he the long term solution? If he is long-term, what does that say about our intentions to go straight back up?
It's a world of questions when you're a Sunderland (or indeed Leeds) fan and the manager merry-go-round is in full swing. We've been inflated and deflated more times than a Chinese sex doll and it's easy to be angry or even apathetic about it - either is fair. But at the end of the day when a man takes the job we're all behind him until he fails or we find someone better.
As it happens, I believe in Grayson and in what he clearly believes he can achieve here. He's composed, he's quiet but authoritative, he clearly has a solid plan and has no problem conveying that to his team. He respects the club and the enormity of the task he's taken on. He see's the potential in the club and doesn't take that for granted. The lads look reinvigorated under his stewardship and long may it continue.
One of our own writers bumped into him at a pub the other night and he was even lovely enough to sit down and have a chat about it all. He's definitely the man for us right now – whether that remains the case a year from now, the results will be the determining factor. So far, so good.
5. Predict the score.
This is tough. It's arguably our biggest challenge yet in this league and I can guarantee no one will be taking any of your lads for granted. The team and fans expect and deserve a real fight, and I can see them getting it. If I were a conservative man and not such a wind-up merchant I would plump for a draw similar to our last match; taking an early lead and soaking up pressure, hoping we don't crumble and eventually conceding an equaliser.
But I'm a dreamer and I'll go for 2-1 Sunderland. Either way I hope it's a belter.