Martin O'Neill looks ponderous during the first preseason game, and we've got his musings and our own below!
Sunderland's preseason programme finally kicked off at the Suwon World Cup Stadium with a 1-0 defeat to Korean side Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
Not the result that Martin O'Neill would have wanted, but ultimately the run-out is the most important thing at this time of year. The unfamiliar humid conditions and the fact it was against a side in the middle of their season should not be overlooked.
That said, the inclination in football will always be to look at the result. So we cast our eye over the game and cover the points it raised in the first of our new match reaction features.
What The Gaffer Said
Speaking to safc.com, Martin O'Neill was in pragmatic mood following the defeat, despite his obvious disappointment at missing out on a potential prize money windfall.
It was very much a good workout. The opposition were fitter, faster and fresher but there were some decent things in the game alongside some disappointing ones.
The biggest disappointment was losing the game. We would have liked to have been contesting the final on Sunday and that is a shame.
We had some good spells and hit the woodwork three times. Maybe when I analyse it tomorrow I will take the lack of fitness into consideration.
Sometimes during the course of games there are disappointments. We gave the ball away very cheaply when we had it and when there was no need to give it away.
That's something we can certainly work on between now and the start of the season.
You won't find any of us here at Roker Report too upset at having a manager with so much drive to win that losing a friendly match in which conditions so obviously favoured the opposition is a genuine irritant for him!
Any Way Back For Titus?
Although there was an element of lack of match fitness and sharpness about all the players which was to be expected, Titus Bramble was worrying short of both. His overall demeanour on the pitch was more like that of a lumbering ageing heavyweight boxer than it was a footballer in what should be the prime of his career and he was skipped past with absolute ease for the decisive goal.
We never like to write anyone off, and we won't be doing it here either, but with Wes Brown, John O'Shea, and Michael Turner already ahead of him in the pecking order, as well as new arrival Carlos Cuellar, it is very difficult to see a route back into the Sunderland first team for Titus Bramble right now.
Return Of The Monolithic Menace?
After a hugely impressive showing away at Bolton early last season, we dubbed Connor Wickham 'The Monolithic Menace' and based on that day's showing, and the following one a week later against Aston Villa, it was fully justified.
Sadly, injury robbed him of his chance to impress further in his debut season. He rarely featured and when he did he was noticeably struggling with the pace of the game. Although nothing official was ever heard, the suspicion was that he didn't quite overcome the injury.
The Connor Wickham that was on show in Korea was a completely different beast to that which finished the Premier League season however. He was strong as an ox and looked like you could park a double-decker bus across his shoulders. He showed a very good touch too.
With such a dearth of forwards at the club and Martin O'Neill's long history of building teams around big bustling powerhouse forwards, the opportunity is obvious for Wickham and he surely did himself no harm at all with this showing.
Hint Towards Team Shape For New Season?
It is always difficult to read too much into friendly games, but you can't help but wonder if Martin O'Neill dropped a little hint about the shape of the team he is planning for next season. He started with a 4-3-3 shape with pace on the flanks which was very reminiscent of his Aston Villa team.
Whilst the three men in midfield were in place, Sunderland had absolute control of the midfield, with the full backs in particular finding it much easier to distribute the ball into their feet. There is the Sessegnon question, of course, but there would be little reason why he couldn't nicely slot into Craig Gardner's position in that midfield three.
The system was switched to 4-4-2 in the second half which did provide a little more attacking thrust, but came a cost. Sunderland immediately lost control of the midfield, struggled to distribute from the back without the spare man to look for, and generally looked a lot more open.
Difficult to second-guess O'Neill at this stage, but we certainly think that a 4-4-2 system would be a surprise come August.