EPL Season Preview: Sunderland

via www.safc.com

Team Name: Sunderland Association football Club

Nicknames: The Black Cats, The Mackems

Location: Sunderland, Tyne and Wear (Northeast England)

Ground: Stadium of Light (Capacity: 49,000)

Manager: Steve Bruce is entering his second year at the helm of Sunderland. He has managed Wigan on two separate occasions and has also been the head man at Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and Crystal Palace. Bruce's longest tenure as manager, however, came at Birmingham City, which is pretty much all you need to know in order to hate him.

Last Year's Record:

Premier League: 13th Position

League Cup: Fourth Round, lost to Aston Villa on penalties

F.A. Cup: Second Round, lost to eventual runners-up Portsmouth

Brief History: Sunderland were founded in 1879 and were elected to the Football League two years after its founding, in 1890. Sunderland have won six first division titles, most recently in 1936. The club have also won two F.A. Cups, in 1937 and 1973. Sunderland were an often excellent and steadily respectable first division team for the first half of the 20th century, not being relegated for the first time until 1958. The Black Cats bounced between the first and second division for much of the next twenty years; their F.A. Cup victory is notable in that Sunderland were a second division club at the time. Since 1973 only two other clubs playing outside of the top flight have accomplished such a feat.

Sunderland briefly returned to the first division in 1975, but were relegated the following year. The club found themselves playing in the third division in 1987 for the first time in their history. Their fortunes quickly improved however, and Sunderland found themselves back in the first division in 1990 and made their debut in the Premier League in 1995. In the years since Sunderland have been something of a yo-yo team, but the coming season will be their fourth consecutive in the Premiership. Sunderland's 13th place finish last season is somewhat misleading, as two runs of excellent form bookended a run of 14 games without a victory. While Sunderland should not be looked at as likely candidates for relegation, they'll need to avoid such inconsistency.

Players to Watch:

Darren Bent: Bent is an interesting player; after scoring 47 goals in three seasons for Ipswich Town and 31 goals in two seasons for Charlton Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur paid what was then a club-record transfer fee for the striker's services. Bent was largely seen as a disappointment for Spurs; the expectation was that a move to a bigger club would provide him with a better supporting cast and propel him towards even greater stardom, but in fact the opposite occurred. Bent often seemed to get lost in Spurs attack and despite scoring 17 goals in all competitions in 2008/09, he was sold to Sunderland during the off-season. Upon his arrival at Sunderland, Bent proceeded to go absolutely insane, scoring seven goals in the club's first nine games. Bent was also the beneficiary of one of the stranger goals of the 2009/10 season, scoring the match winner when his shot deflected off of an errant beach ball and past Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina. Bent finished the year with 24 goals, more than anyone aside fromDidier Drogba and Wayne Rooney. Bent's performance has lead to a great deal of lusting-after by supporters of various teams (Aston Villa included,) but as of yet Sunderland seem completely uninterested in accepting offers. Sunderland is in many ways the perfect situation for Bent, as he seems to perform best as the primary scoring threat in a team's attack, and if Sunderland hope to move into the top half of the table they'll need a similarly impressive season from their star.

Anton Ferdinand: Younger brother of Rio, Anton's inclusion on this list is less by virtue of his past performances than his potential and what his performance is likely to mean for Sunderland's chances of taking a step forward in the coming season. Sunderland's backline was manned largely by loan-ees Michael Turner John Mensah and Alan Hutton last season, and both players have been returned to their parent clubs. Ferdinand will be expected to take a step towards fulfilling his promise next season, and while no one expects him to be the player his brother is a failure to perform more consistently and at a higher level will be seen as a tremendous disappointment.

Ahmed Al-Muhammadi: Technically at Sunderland on transfer, the club are entitled to purchase the Egyptian midfielder's rights at the end of the season if they so desire, and considering what is known of his abilities the odds that this does not end up being the case seem fairly slim. I've never seen Al-Muhammadi play, but he has been capped 38 times for the Egyptian National Team at the age of 22 and has a reputation as a pacey, dynamic playmaker. Al-Muhammadi does not seem to be much of a goal-scoring threat, but if he and Bent can form a decent working relationship they could be quite a dangerous proposition for opposition sides to have to deal with.

Rivalries: Sunderland's greatest rivals are Newcastle United, against whom they contest the Tyne-Wear Derby.

A Villa Fan Says..."For God's sake someone mark Fraizer Campbell, he's really really fast."

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