SUNDERLAND are no strangers to the upheaval which stems from a host of incomings and outgoings during the summer transfer window.
But despite wholesale changes to their squad – plus a new manager at the helm – tomorrow’s opponents Southampton have thrived after the loss of five key players.
SportMail’s Chris Young speaks to Sunderland defender Wes Brown ahead of this weekend’s clash at St Mary’s.
SHIP players out en masse before conducting a transfer market supermarket sweep.
And then repeat.
That recipe has been a painfully regular occurrence in Sunderland’s seven-and-a-bit years in the Premier League. The lack of continuity has invariably corresponded with near-catastrophe.
It’s a pattern which Gus Poyet and Lee Congerton are desperate to change.
They want an end to summers like the one just gone, when 16 departing players and nine incoming ones kept the Stadium of Light doors revolving.
If Sunderland can indeed enjoy the ‘steady’ campaign which they crave, then don’t expect more than half-a-dozen arrivals next August.
But a conveyor belt close season doesn’t seem to have hampered Southampton.
Back in July, new manager Ronald Koeman was almost struggling to muster sufficient resources to field a five-a-side team, let alone consolidate Southampton’s position on the coat-tails of the top seven.
Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Calum Chambers were gone – albeit for big bucks – while the overseer of their rapid progress, Mauricio Pochettino, was debuting his pigeon English at White Hart Lane.
Yet heading into the resumption of the Premier League programme after the two-week international break, Koeman oversees the side perched third in the table.
So why have Southampton thrived, when Sunderland have toiled when faced with a similar exodus and hasty recruitment?
Veteran Black Cats defender Wes Brown believes it is down to the ingrained philosophy which has been cemented in the foundations at St Mary’s.
A clear possession-based strategy has been part of Southampton’s fabric since they began the journey back up the football pyramid, and whichever new player arrives, they are able to fit into that template.
“They’ve been playing like this for the last four or five seasons now, and whoever has come in, they get it straight it away,” said Brown.
“A lot of players will go there and want to show what they can do.
“There’s a great team bond – you can see that – and they’re enjoying it at the moment.
“There’s a philosophy there which helps players to get it straight away. If you don’t, I’m sure they drill it into you.
“They are a good football team and they can keep the ball for long periods of time, and they can punish you when you’re at your weakest.”
Brown’s comments echo the thoughts of Poyet, who has repeatedly stressed how keen he is to leave his successor – whenever that may be – a far healthier inheritance than they one he received.
That is the long-term plan.
In the short-term, Sunderland will look to inflict a first home defeat of the season on the Saints tomorrow.
Brown expects a cagey, chess-like encounter on the south coast, with Southampton conceding the fewest goals in the top flight so far this season and Sunderland boasting the joint second-best defensive record.
The former Manchester United man said: “It will be tight. I think they’re a good tactical team, who try to pounce where they think you’re vulnerable.
“It could be a lock-lock situation, a bit of a dead game.
“But we’re going there to win it.
“We’ll go there knowing what they’re going to do.
“It’s just whether we can stop it and then punish them ourselves.
“They’re all good passers and eventually try to break you down.
“It only takes a couple of people to come out of position and they’re straight into the box.
“It’s one of those games where we’ll need to be on our toes.”
The challenge of facing the in-form Saints has been softened by Sunderland recording the illusive first top flight victory prior to the international break.
Brown admits there was a sense of relief in the Sunderland camp at conquering that mental hurdle after the Black Cats had been one of only three Premier League sides without a win to their name.
“It was one of the biggest things getting that first win,” said the 35-year-old.
“We walked off the pitch against Stoke knowing there was an international break and we were happy with three points.
“It helps a lot.
“We’ve not played brilliant or played horrible.
“But to get that win puts it into perspective really. It’s something we can build on.
“Before the Stoke game, we’d lost one and drawn the rest, we did need that win just to push us up.
“After we’ve got that, it does look better. We can build on that.
“Without that win, we would have still been around the bottom, although we’d only lost one game.
“It was something we needed and we managed to get the win and played okay.”
In a concertinaed league table, one victory moved Sunderland from fourth bottom to 13th, with the Black Cats only three points adrift of fourth placed Manchester United.
Brown expects life in the bottom half to be similarly tightly-poised throughout the campaign.
But the ex-England international says Sunderland must harbour aspirations that they can elbow their way into the top half.
“A couple more wins will push us on again and we can see from there,” he added.
“There’s a lot of teams in the same sort of situation.
“It might be like last season where everyone’s on similar points and it’s just that one team who can maybe get that bit of luck or a couple of goals. They push on and get to that ninth or 10th place.
“That’s what we’re looking to do.”