The ex-Hearts management duo, return of Aiden McGeady & the player to watch - the lowdown on Sunderland

Hearts continue their preparation ahead of the start of the cinch Premiership with a friendly against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon in Gorgie.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Friday, 16th July 2021, 6:40 pm
Former Hearts boss Lee Johnson is in charge of Sunderland. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
Former Hearts boss Lee Johnson is in charge of Sunderland. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

There could be a crowd of 2,000 at Tynecastle Park as Robbie Neilson makes use of the team's free weekend in the Premier Sports Cup.

The Hearts boss confirmed after Tuesday's 3-0 win over Cove Rangers that he will make changes for the game with the Black Cats. With nine players starting both League Cup games so far, back-up, fringe and younger players could be given a run out.

That could mean game time for Jamie Walker, Jordan Roberts, Loic Damour, Mihai Popescu and the likes of Scott McGill, Euan Henderson and Aidan Denholm and Connor Smith who came off the bench against Cove.

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Neilson confirmed he is still looking to add a defender and forward player to the squad.

Hearts will face a League One team under the management of former Hearts duo Lee Johnson and his assistant Jamie McAllister.

Sunderland are facing up to the prospect of their fourth season in the third tier.

They have come to Scotland for a training camp ahead of the new campaign with work still to be done on the squad.

There is insight on the current state of the club, Johnson and McAllister, what Hearts can expect from their friendly opponents and a certain Aiden McGeady who will be familiar to plenty of supporters.

I think the big question on a number of fans' minds is: 'Why are Sunderland still a League One team?'

There's a plethora of reasons why Sunderland remain in the third tier. Off the field, the club have been shrouded in takeover uncertainty for the vast majority of their time in League One - and only recently has that come to an end with Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' purchase of a majority stake. Recruitment has been questionable at times too and the side have lacked consistency on the field. They've tended to finish campaigns fairly poorly which has then scuppered them in two play-off campaigns.

How is the squad shaping up in pre-season? There doesn't seem to be a lot of depth to the team just yet.

It's been a slow burner in the transfer market thus far, but Sunderland have clinched the signings of Alex Pritchard and Corry Evans in the last week. Those additions, coupled with retaining influential duo Aiden McGeady and Luke O'Nien, represent a good start to the window. But there is plenty more work to be done as the squad remains lacking in depth - particularly in defence, where it's likely some under-23 players will feature at Tynecastle.

Lee Johnson and Jamie McAllister are ex-Hearts players. How have they done so far and how are they viewed by Sunderland fans?

While Johnson and McAllister couldn't lead the side to promotion last season, there is an understanding that the squad last season was far from their own. Johnson is keen to play a high-pressing, energetic brand of football and the squad he inherited didn't quite fit into that game model. There were plenty of promising signs last season and some encouraging displays - including a thumping win at Lincoln City early in his win and a great triumph over Doncaster Rovers earlier this year - and it will be interesting to see what can be done this season with a squad that is more in Johnson's image.

What is the aim for the season?

Promotion. Sunderland need to get out of League One this season and, while that will be easier said than done given the spending of the likes of Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic, it has to be the aim this season.

What can Hearts fans expect from Sunderland in the match? What style do they play?

It will be interesting to see how Sunderland approach this game, but it's likely to be a senior side that takes part in the fixture following their training camp in Scotland this week. Lee Johnson has been keen to utilise a 4-3-3 system and it would be little surprise if he started in that shape. Sunderland will look to bring plenty of energy in the final third and will press high to win back possession, and will look to get plenty of balls into the area from wide areas - where the delivery of Aiden McGeady is a real weapon.

Who is / are the player(s) who Hearts should be wary of or surprise/excite the supporters in attendance?

Luke O'Nien perhaps isn't the biggest name in the side, but he's a big player for Sunderland and is expected to move into midfield having spent most of last season in the backline. Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton will also be two players to keep a close eye on. They are both academy graduates and there are high hopes for the duo ahead of the new campaign.

There will be 2,000 in attendance but there will still be that pantomime aspect of booing Aiden McGeady.How important is the ex-Celtic attacker and Ross Stewart to this Sunderland side?

During Sunderland's time in League One, McGeady has at times carried the side near single-handedly. He's technically the best player in the division and his ability to conjure up a moment of magic has won Sunderland countless points. Stewart has impressed in the handful of outings he has made and could well start the season leading the line following Charlie Wyke's exit.

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