Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is confident his side can put a "terrible" pre-season behind them as they begin their quest for a top-10 place against Birmingham at the Stadium of Light tomorrow.
He said: "There's always a feel-good factor at the start of the season. It's been a difficult pre-season, with the World Cup, with injuries and transfers and all the rest of it.
"But there's nothing quite like the first game of the season and, even though we've had a terrible July and August, they'll be hot and we'll look forward to the challenge again.
"I think we could all sit here now and predict the top eight. The rest of us have got to see if we can try and get in there if we possibly can or be competing for the top spot in our league, so to speak.
"You need a bit of luck. You need your big players to stay fit – we didn't have that at important time last season, and that's huge.
"I think we've improved the squad, the squad has a younger feel about it, but we need to hit the ground running, which is not easy. Throughout last season, we were competing for the top 10 but we didn't make it. That's got to be the aim."Reuse content