Ask the Oppo! PGL Goes Up North: Sunderland

Morning Insiders. Its been another rollercoaster week. I honestly believe the Porto game was a turning point, our most complete performance by far and Fab 4 roared back to form. So what’s instore for us today? I’ve been talking to Colin Randall from Salut! Sunderland . Colin is an Ex-Pat currently living in the UAE but is still a season ticket holder! 
PGL: Roy Keane brought in a lot of experience during the summer, how have the new players improved your team?
Colin: The signings – and especially two of those you’d boo as Spurs rejects, Tainio and Malbranque – show early signs of adding a little of the quality that was so glaringly missing (until Andy Reid’s arrival in the January transfer window)  last season.  For the return to the Premier League, Keane had packed the squad with players who were basically Championship standard, plus a very expensive goalkeeper who took a lot of bedding in and – thanks heavens – Kenwyne Jones. I am not yet convinced by Chimbonda, who seems to go AWOL rather a lot and has a tendency to point the finger of blame at others when things go wrong.

PGL: El-Hadji Diouf has always been a bit of a premiership pantomime villain, how have Black Cat fans taken to him?
Colin: I suppose it’s like all these characters – he’s our villain now. I think Keano, and quite a few fans, wanted someone who’d get in the face of referees. He does that, but still has a lot to do before he wins me over to the more conventional qualities you look for in a player.
PGL: Cisse didn’t exactly light the Premiership on fire during is time at Liverpool, were you surprised Keane signed him?
Colin: When you consider the injuries he has suffered, he surely deserves the benefit of the doubt. He scored goals in France, though we all know that’s a weaker league. His pace can be electrifying, and that was certainly missed last season. I am just hoping he can build on what has been a reasonable start, including the well taken goals at Spurs and Villa. 
PGL: What do you think Keane’s realistic aims for the season are?
Colin: He’ll want to avoid another late scramble for points to avoid relegation. I am the eternal pessimist and still look at most games as eminently losable. I’ll never forget the feeling of relief and eleation at being safe by about Christmas one season under Peter Reid. Keano won’t achieve that, but he’ll be bitterly disappointed not to reach mid-table.
PGL: Keane signed a 3-year deal in 2006. How important is it that Quinn & Co. keep him at the club?
Colin: Well, all those who predicted the Quinn/Keane partnership could only end in tears, and quickly, have been proved wrong. For an unproven manager, Keane’s record so far has been phemonenal. And they seem to get on. Yes. he’s had a bit of money, but all the money in the world won’t lure the best players, or many of them, to the North East. I would love to see him sign a new contract; I think the partnership logically has some way to run.
PGL: Arsenal played Porto in the Champions League mid-week and Gooners saw Cesc Fabregas back to his best. How will Sunderland prevent him from dominating proceedings?

Colin: He is a great player but only one of several in the Arsenal team who could cause us no end of problems. Realistically, Arsenal at their best, with or without Cesc, would expect to win any game against Sunderland at their best. Your list of potential star performers is just too long: Walcott, van Persie, Adebayor as well as Fabregas and just about anyone else’s name you choose.
PGL: Theo Walcott has been in great form since the confidence boost of the Croatia game. How will you defence cope with the speed of the Arsenal attacking players?

Colin: It is speed and skill. At the Emirates last season – my last game before moving to the Emirates, though I see all matches here live on TV  – you started as if you would have four or five by halftime. The back four will have to produce its best form of the season, and Craig Gordon will need to shave a bit more off his 9m cost, to keep you out. Walcott is an outstanding young player with the ability to run our defence ragged as he did a couple of times at the same game last season.
PGL: Much has been written about our inability to defend set plays, do you have the players to exploit this?

Colin: Andy Reid and Steve Malbranque are probably our best bets in set pieces. We could have done with Jones’s power and ability in such settings but he is weeks away from a return.
PGL: How do the Sunderland faithful feel about the ‘Sund-Ireland’ tag?

Colin: I have come across a few Sunderland fans who deepy resent what they call the Paddification of the club. But I l know Ireland fairly well and we’ve always enjoyed a degree of support there, probably linked to the affection felt for one of our all-time heroes, Charlie Hurley. I’d hate us to become a brand, but have no real problem when people from outside the North East support us. 
PGL: And finally, what’s your prediction for the game?
Colin: I’d love a repeat of that opening game of the 2000-20001 season when you had a trillion chances and missed them all, and we had one and Quinnie took it. Our best hope is to contain you at the start and count on you flagging as you did at home to us last season. But I fear the worst: 2-0 to you.
PGL: So Insiders, Colin thinks we’re a cert and to be honest so do I. I’ll agree with his prediction 2-0 to the Goooners. I’m expecting us to start pretty much the same way we did against Porto. I’d love to see Theo open his Premier League account this weekend, I’d love it!. Expect to see RVP lying deep and providing an extra body in midfield and lets all hope we don’t give away too many corners!

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