In our preview of tonight’s match at Blackwell Meadows, Sunderland manager Jack Ross says that he is “extremely excited” about playing Darlo.
This will be the new manager’s first game in charge since he arrived at the Stadium of Light from St Mirren earlier in the summer.
“I’d like to start by saying thank you to Darlington for playing host to our opening pre-season friendly this evening,” he said. “Since arriving at Sunderland in June, I have been extremely excited for tonight’s match as it’s another tick in the box on our way to getting prepared for the start of our domestic season.
“It’s great that we are kicking off our run of pre-season friendlies against a local side like Darlington because it creates a bit of a buzz in the area, so I’d like to thank them for welcoming us and I wish them all the best for their season ahead.
“Tonight will be my first opportunity to meet the Sunderland fans so hopefully we can put on a good performance and begin our pre-season on the right footing. From the moment I took the job just over a month ago, my staff and I have been taken back by the warm reception we’ve received. I am immensely proud to be the new Sunderland manager, but I know there is a real responsibility that comes with a job like this.
“It is a new chapter in the club’s history and a new one in my career also. I am incredibly excited about the challenges ahead because I have always wanted to progress my career. Timing wise it feels good. To get that chance at a club of Sunderland’s magnitude and potential, given where the club finds itself, means I have a chance to stamp my own mark on things.
“I have a responsibility to give the club back to the fans. The best way I can do that is by winning games and that will always fall on my shoulders. If we can do that then the reconnection with our fans will build. That said, no one can doubt how passionate our fanbase is. They’ve been with the club through thick and thin and that’s highlighted in the number of season tickets we have already sold for the new season.
“There has been a lot of work to do in a short space of time and there is still plenty to do, but I am happy with where we are tonight. The position the club finds itself in means there is a huge onus on me to help our young players progress through to become first-team players. I know the club has a good academy but that doesn’t change the fact that the last part of a player’s development is always the most difficult. I have come to Sunderland because I want to give the young players here a chance. So far, I have enjoyed working with them and hopefully I have had an influence on them.
“One thing I needed to do was to act quickly in the transfer market, and I think we did that. We brought in four new faces ahead of our trip to Portugal, and we have since strengthened further, so I’ve been pleased with the business we’ve done so far. Of course, there is plenty more work to be done in that area, but I’ve been pleased with how the new lads have settled, they’ve trained well with the group and tonight will be their first opportunity to settle into a 90-minute match scenario with us.
“Last week we took the players away to Portugal for a six-day training camp. Obviously, the plans to go away there were in place before I took the job, but I was happy with it because it was an opportunity to spend time with the players and staff. It was 24/7 and that was beneficial on the pitch as well as off it. I made the decision to take a number of young lads, so Denver Hume, Bali Mumba, Andrew Nelson and Elliot Embleton travelled. It was important we gave those lads an opportunity because I’ve been there and seen that with younger players at my previous clubs that sometimes there’s things that can fall in your favour due to circumstance and timing. Sometimes it not just down to your ability and character, and I have to say all four of them impressed me immensely. Hopefully they enjoyed the experience and will take a lot from it.
“Like I mentioned previously, tonight is where our work takes another major step forward. Tonight is all about getting fitness in the legs and getting used to playing a 90-minute match once more. My staff and I have tried to put the foundations in place so the environment surrounding the players is one that is demanding and enjoyable to be in. Hopefully, those foundations will help us turn this ship around.”
The Black Cats include six new signings tonight.
In June 2018, Alim became Jack Ross’ first signing as manager of the club.
The 25-year-old, who is a centre-back, joins the club on a two-year deal after his 18-month stint at Turkish side Boluspor came to an end.
A former Turkish under-21 international who was born in the Netherlands, Ozturk began his career at Dutch side SC Cambuur, before moving to Trabzonspor.
Ozturk then made the move to Scottish side Heart of Midlothian, spending three years at the club, during which time he was awarded the captain’s armband.
He returned to Turkish football in January 2017, signing an eighteen-month deal with Boluspor.
Jon joined Sunderland as Jack Ross continued to shape his side for the Sky Bet League One season.
The 30-year-old free agent signed a two-year deal to become Ross’ second summer signing, arriving with a wealth of experience within the Football League and beyond.
Born in Edinburgh, the in-demand stopper enjoyed a standout 2017-18 campaign with Scottish Premiership outfit Heart of Midlothian, and this led to his international debut in May 2018.
McLaughlin rejected the opportunity to extend his stay at Tynecastle, opting to return to the Football League and join Ross’ squad.
Chris Maguire became Jack Ross’ third summer signing as Sunderland manager in June 2018.
Arriving from Bury, the midfielder, who can also play up top, signed a two-year deal at the Stadium of Light.
The 29-year-old spent last season at Gigg Lane after moving to Bury following an impressive 2016-17 season, during which he scored 17 Sky Bet League One goals for Oxford United.
Following a two-month loan in late 2015, Maguire moved to the Kassam Stadium in February 2016 and netted four goals in the final six games of the season, as the U’s gained automatic promotion from Sky Bet League Two.
Tom completed his switch to Sunderland last month, penning a two-year deal at the Stadium of Light.
The defender, who made 27 appearances in the Sky Bet Championship last season, became Jack Ross’ fourth signing of the summer, following Alim Ozturk, Jon McLaughlin and Chris Maguire to Wearside.
The 26-year-old started his career with Milton Keynes Dons, progressing through the ranks at Stadium MK, and captaining the under-18s, before making 45 first-team appearances for the club.
As a youngster, he spent time on loan with Kettering Town, Gillingham, Barnet, Stevenage and Plymouth Argyle before signing a permanent deal at the Pirelli Stadium in August 2015.
Flanagan played 20 times for Burton during their 2015-16 promotion winning season, turning out alongside fellow new recruit Jon McLaughlin.
He went on to play 75 league games for the Brewers and earned senior international recognition, with his Northern Ireland debut coming in June 2017 against New Zealand.
The highly-sought after Dylan McGeouch completed his switch to the Stadium of Light last week.
The midfielder arrived on Wearside following the expiration of his contract with Scottish club Hibernian.
McGeouch, 25, spent the last four seasons at Easter Road, initially signing on loan before sealing a permanent move in 2015.
During his time with the Scottish Premiership outfit, he played a key role as the club historically won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years. One season later he played a key role as Neil Lennon’s side returned to the top flight as champions.
Linked with a plethora of clubs both in the SPL and the Sky Bet Championship, McGeouch capped off a memorable spell at Easter Road with UEFA Europa League qualification, as Hibs finished fourth during their first season back in Scotland’s top tier.
McGeouch started his career with Celtic, progressing through the ranks at the club and winning two Scottish Premier League titles while also spending time on loan in Sky Bet League One with Coventry City.
He also won the Scottish Premier Under-19 League, Scottish Premier Under-20 League and Scottish Youth Cup during his time at Celtic Park.
In May 2018, McGeouch made his senior debut at international level when he featured against Peru, and he picked up his second cap four days later as he started alongside fellow new signing Jon McLaughlin against Mexico.
Left-back Reece James followed McGeouch through the door shortly after as Sunderland completed a double swoop last week.
The 24-year-old arrives following a three-year spell with Wigan Athletic, during which time he helped the club win two Sky Bet League One titles.
James made 28 appearances for the Latics during the 2017-18 campaign, as Paul Cooke’s side pipped rivals Blackburn Rovers to the third-tier title and sealed an instant return to the Sky Bet Championship.
James started his career with Rossendale United and enjoyed spells with Blackburn and Preston North End before signing for Manchester United in July 2012.
One year later, he joined Carlisle United on loan but his time at Brunton Park was cut short due to injury, and he returned to Old Trafford before impressing for the Red Devils’ second-string and being nominated for the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award.
He made his first-team debut in July 2014 during United’s pre-season tour of the USA, scoring twice in a 7-0 win over LA Galaxy.
Loan spells with Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town followed before James signed for Wigan in 2015, playing a key role in the first half of the Tics’ 2015-16 title-winning season before missing 20 months due to injury.
He returned to action in August 2017 and picked up where he left off, featuring 28 times as Wigan returned to the Sky Bet Championship as champions.