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Inside Info: views from a Sunderland fan

The latest installment of Inside Info ahead of Sunderland's trip down to St. Mary's.

Nigel Roddis

It's that time again. After a brief international break, Sunderland make the long trip from the North East to the South Coast to take on Ronald Koeman's in-form Southampton side, who currently sit up in third place in the Premier League.

This week we get the inside scoop from Michael Graham, editor of Roker Report. We talk Gus Poyet, Saints' summer, the reason behind Sunderland's rocky start to the season, and we find out just how bad Jozy Altidore is (cue him scoring against us!).

SMM: What are your thoughts on your season so far?

MG: I'd describe it as solid rather than spectacular. We've only won one game, but we've also only lost one. However, after last season, and the start in particular, you could argue that for us solid is spectacular. It's really all about baby-steps for us right now, and becoming a tough side to beat who do the basics well and have a little character is a step we have desperately needed to master for an awful long time now.

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Your last Premier League fixture saw you enjoy a convincing win over Stoke. Why did it take so long for Sunderland to get their first win?

I think we were slightly unfortunate with the fixtures. You usually look to your home games to get wins under your belt and our first three were Manchester United, Tottenham and Swansea, who we really should have beaten. Away from home, we've had two newly-promoted teams and ideally you want to avoid those early on.

I think there was also a little trepidation after what happened early last season that provoked an almost sub-concious safety-first attitude. Ultimately, though, the reason we had to wait for so long for the first win was that it took that long for the strikers to start scoring. Connor Wickham and Steven Fetcher both scored against Stoke, but it was the first league game in which a Sunderland striker had scored.

What were your season expectations before it started? Have they changed?

I find expectations and Sunderland AFC simply don't go together and have learned to avoid them entirely. This club... I tell you, man... you can't make predictions for it, you can't harbour expectations of it. You just go with the flow and hope they don't kill you.

I hope we won't have any serious relegation concerns. A season of just loitering around the middle of the table would suit me right down to the ground. It's a simple remit but, trust me, Sunderland will find a way of complicating it and making everyone dizzier than a ditz at a disco wondering what the hell has actually happened.

What do you think of Gus Poyet as Sunderland boss? He's not particularly popular among Saints fans!

Tactically, Poyet is excellent. I'd say in that department he is easily the most sophisticated Sunderland manager I have ever seen. In fact, in a lot of ways he could well be the best. He is in the process of giving the club a real on-pitch identity and that is not something we have seen for a decade or more. I think Poyet has a massive up-side to him.

He also makes me nervous though. Every time he opens his mouth, especially if it is in the middle of a bad run, I start to sweat because you never know whether or not he has a big can of worms he wants to open. He slips into self-preservation mode a little too easily for my liking and plays the blame game rather than presenting and preserving a united front. I can understand why he does it, but I don't like it one bit.

How do Sunderland fans view Southampton? Are we seen as rivals in terms of league position?

Well, I can only really speak for myself rather than Sunderland fans as a whole, but I have a lot of time for Southampton. I think that it is pretty clear the Saints are well ahead of Sunderland in terms of development, but outside of the top seven or so teams in the Premier League I'd say everyone was rivals in terms of league position.

How did you view Saints' tumultuous summer at the time? Can you see Southampton maintaining their good start?

Honestly? A little suspiciously. It looked like someone was cashing-in on the family silver to keep for themselves and I didn't care much for it. If it had been one or two that had gone, I think it'd be normal. We are all selling clubs at the end of the day. I looks like it won't have disastrous consequences, though, which I'm glad to see.

I think there will come a time when Southampton have a little dip and hit a bad run, though. Teams with momentum from one season to the next, whatever direction it is in, tend to follow the same pattern for a while almost on autopilot. For me, the real Southampton is yet to reveal it's this season, so it should be an interesting few months ahead.

If Sunderland could buy one Saints player, who would it be and why?

Good question. Obviously, Southampton are not short of a star name or two. Morgan Schneiderlin has matured into as dominant a midfield player you'll see outside of the Champions League, and Nathaniel Clyne is a fantastically dynamic modern full back.

Whenever I watch Southampton play, though, it's always James Ward-Prowse that catches they eye. He has a lovely technique about him, plays with his head up, and rarely seems to be short on space, and he's only going to get better too. His set-piece delivery is incredible too. Not many, if any, seem to be capable of manipulating the flight and shape of a ball like he can. He doesn't get anywhere near enough recognition for that part of his game.

If you could sell one Sunderland player from your regular starting XI, who would it be and why?

Hand on heart, no one. I mean, we don't have a team of world-beaters, but by the same chalk there is no glaring weak link like there has so often been in the past. They are just a likeable bunch of lads really. I can't really bring myself to dislike any of them.

How bad is Jozy Altidore?

On his day - atrocious. The thing about Jozy though is that he's adorably atrocious and that almost makes him endearing. The maddening thing about him is that sometimes he's capable of really being a handful. He scored a beautiful and very classy goal against Stoke in the cup, and he absolutely tore Newcastle apart in the last derby.

There is a player in there somewhere, I know there is, but I don't think Sunderland will ever see it. I think we are stuck with the atrocious one.

So what are your predictions ahead of the game?

I think it'll be a good game, hopefully a close one, but think Southampton will have just too much energy for us to cope with when push comes to shove. I hope I'm wrong, but I'll go a 2-0 home win.

A bit thanks goes to Michael Graham for his time. Please follow him at @Capt_Fishpaste.