Is Norwich v Sunderland still a friendly rivalry or have recent seasons blurred the lines? Jon Punt talked to the Roker Report's Michael Oates about the curious case of Lewis Grabban, among other things...
Jon: Not a great season for the Mackams last time out then, with most outside the North East completely writing off your chances and predicting a campaign where you'll struggle to adapt to the Championship. What's the mood and expectation like among your fans?
Michael: With everything that's happened in pre-season, starting from Moyes' resignation, the collapsed takeover bid, the delay in appointing a manager and the apparent shoestring budget, it's already been a tough, uncertain period for everyone connected with the club.
Some players are still likely to leave, and we've already lost the likes of Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford, plus a host of out of contract players. Simon Grayson looks to be a good appointment though, he can work on a budget and has brought in some decent additions so far.
If he can foster a winning spirit with everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, that is all we can ask for. We saw that on Friday against Derby. Commitment, work rate and application are the only expectations we hope for. We want to feel proud about our club again. In terms of league position, let’s see where that takes us.
Jon: Grayson certainly was an interesting and leftfield appointment, I read the other day he’s been promoted with every club he’s ever managed, albeit not at this level before. What qualities can you see him bringing to the side?
Michael: Immediately after being appointed, Grayson stated that players have been coming to Sunderland for the wrong reasons. Players will play for the shirt, they'll work hard and be fully committed to winning games for the club. That was music to the ears of each and every one of our fans and he's already brought in players that he's previously worked with, and who fit the criteria that's required.
Grayson has the ability to work within a tight budget and I point back to his time at Leeds for reassurance in that respect. We are a work in progress, we'll have to be patient. We have to back our manager. The early signs are positive and very encouraging.
Jon: Sounds much like Norwich in the past few seasons. It's fair to say we've been mixing in similar circles/divisions of late and general apathy had set in around our club before the appointment of our new football governance team/coaching staff. What do you make of Norwich's setup so far?
Michael: As an outsider looking in, I think Norwich underachieved last season. I thought the club had a solid squad and looked geared to trouble the likes of Newcastle and Brighton for the promotion spots. I was surprised by the departure of Alex Neil, but perhaps the club thought a change would see an upturn in fortunes.
The appointment of Daniel Farke raised eyebrows for many; it's a risky but bold move. He'll have to adapt to the league very quickly because it can be an unforgiving one at times. It is a marathon of a season. I do feel though, with the likes of Martin, Oliveira, Jerome and Hoolahan, there is a basis for a solid campaign, especially if the Jacob Murphy money is reinvested wisely.
Jon: Interesting that you mention Russell Martin as one of our stand out players. Many a Norwich fan made him (incorrectly in my view) a bit of a scapegoat. Talking of Norwich City scapegoats, Lewis Grabban.....discuss.
Michael: Martin has been with Norwich a long time, certainly in modern football terms anyway. Managers have continued to pick him, and he's rarely injured. I think I'd look to players like him, who've been there and done it at the club, to build a base for a successful Championship campaign.
As for Grabban, I think he's a player who certainly divides opinion amongst supporters of the clubs he's played for. I'm hoping that Simon Grayson can get him playing at the level he was in his first Bournemouth spell. If that materialises I think he will get goals for us. He looked dangerous on Friday night, which bodes well for the future.
Jon: Completely agree re Martin, one of the players a manager can turn to as a Steady Eddie in times where continuity might be important. Grabban polarised opinion here but his exit from the club was, well, interesting. Talking of interesting, what’s your hot take on Darron Gibson’s recent comments about some of his colleagues?
Michael: Ah, Darron Gibson; where to start?! Fundamentally, he was saying what most of us already know. We're well aware that certain players no longer want to remain here. That was one of the major reasons last season became such a dismal one. It wasn't the single reason, but one of many important ones that resulted in relegation.
I agree with what Gibson said, I have to admit, but the circumstances in which it came out was always going to cause something of a furore. Gibson is effectively calling out his team mates for not caring, when on the other hand, he's out getting plastered on the same evening as a 5-0 home defeat. When I look at it that way, he's just as bad as the rest of them isn't he?
Jon: Ha, yeah I guess so. Such is the plight of the modern footballer that they're under scrutiny whenever they're in public.
From a Norwich perspective, ever since the Milk Cup final in '85, our clubs' relationship has always been an amicable and friendly one, despite the frequency of meetings and us competing for similar honours. How do Mackams' fans view Norwich?
Michael: Well that's it isn't it? Whenever Norwich City are mentioned up here it immediately evokes memories of 1985 and Wembley, and in particular the relationship that developed between the two sets of fans that day. (Why didn't David Corner just clear that ball?!) If I recall correctly we were both struggling and some may say typically, were eventually relegated together that year. Good relationships that are forged in football retain my faith in the game; just look at what's happened between Sunderland and Everton in recent months over young Bradley Lowery. Football continues to amaze us all.
Jon: Turning to Sunday then, the Sunderland side looks to be much changed, especially up front with the new strike partnership of Grabban and fellow ex-Norwich-er James Vaughan. Anyone we should be particularly worried about, and who do you fear in City’s side?
Michael: I mentioned earlier about us being a work in progress, and I think that is very much the key. We are five weeks behind in preparation after the collapse of the takeover, resulting in a delay when appointing a manager. A lot of players have left but only Defoe and Pickford were real significant departures. I wasn't too disheartened to see anyone else leave.
Grayson has brought in some decent players, ones he knows and trusts too. Aiden McGeady will be our most creative influence and Norwich will need to stifle him in order to keep Vaughan and Grabban from getting a sniff at goal. For Norwich, I've always been a big fan of Wes Hoolahan. Much like McGeady, he is very creative and can pick passes which lead to goalscoring chances. Oliveira and Jerome are always likely to get goals at this level too.
Jon: Glad you mentioned Oliveira. His celebrations after grabbing a late equaliser at the weekend have been the subject of much debate among Norwich fans. Did you see it? If so what was your outsider’s view?
Michael: I did see it yes, and even now I'm struggling what to make of it. If you put yourself in the manager's shoes, he wants his subs to make an impact, which of course Oliveira did by scoring an equaliser. He obviously believes he should have started the game, and is, albeit publicly, reminding his manager of his capabilities. I see it as healthy though, more of a positive than a negative. You have a manager whose tactical decision paid off, and a player who is motivated to play the club. It's a win-win situation for me.
Jon: I tend to agree, although it could be perceived as a public display of dissent its more of a storm in a teacup. Worryingly for you though, the stage is now set for Nelson to bag a winner in a 2-1 win for City. That’s how I see it anyway. What are you thinking predictions wise?
Michael: I have to say this game, particularly with it being away from home, is one of the tougher fixtures on the calendar, so I have to say that I'd happily take a point from it. As long as we carry on some momentum from the encouraging performance at home to Derby, and avoid defeat, I'll be happy with that. I'll go 1-1, Oliveira (obviously) and I'll go Lewis Grabban (naturally) to get a goal for us.
Michael writes for Sunderland website The Roker Report and can be found tweeting @afootyeducation