After a well deserved summer holiday for the lads following a long, gruelling season in the championship its back to the training ground in preparation for one of our biggest seasons to date, but what should we expect from the boys in pre season this time around?
Looking at the fixtures
We kick off July 14th with a trip up to Hearts of Midlothian and a reunion with our former assistant manager Ian Cathro who has experienced a safe season finishing 5th in the Scottish Premier League. I have no doubt there will be a warm reception and a mutual respect from both teams as we can hopefully kick off our pre season with a comfortable win.
July 22nd sees a return to Deepdale and new manager Steve Thompson following Simon Graysons departure to Sunderland, i'm sure we're all wishing him the best of luck in his new role... I'm sure we all remember the last time we played Preston the 4-1 win at St James' Park which saw us secure promotion back to the premier league.
July 26th sees us visit Bradford City at the Northern Commercials Stadium. I'm hoping that this will give a lot of our younger players such as Rolando Aarons & Jamie Sterry an opportunity to really go out there and show Rafa they deserve a chance in the first team next season, providing they already haven't been loaned out. In addition, it could give players such as Siem De Jong a chance to show that they can be a valuable asset, leader and fulfil the potential which has been docked by injury since arriving at the club.
July 29th through to August 2nd sees us go across into Germany with visits to FSV Mainz 05 & Vfl Wolfsburg. This will be a great opportunity for our first team players such as Jonjo Shelvey & Dwight Gayle to push on and build up their confidence dictating games with the premier league season just over the horizon in ten days. Hopefully by this point we will have seen most if not all of our first team transfers come through the door and have a chance to be integrated into the first team. With Christian Atsu already signed on a four year deal and Florian Lejeune set to be a done deal within the next 48 hours fingers crossed this starts a domino effect and we can start to get the ball rolling on transfers. Lets not forget by August 3rd of last season we had already seen crucial players come in such as Gayle, Ritchie, Hayden, Clark & Diame with Yedlin signing on August 24th.
Our final pre season game is on August 6th when St. James' Park plays host to Hellas Verona FC where we will be hoping for less of a tragedy and more of the Romeo & Juliet love story as the newly promoted sides go head to head in what I'm hoping will be a comfortable victory for the toon army and see all doubts about Rafas future put to bed as we can look forward to an exiting campaign back where we belong in the top flight of English football where we intend to stay.