Martin Smith

Smith: Pre-season will be tough

by Ashley Houghton

Former striker excited to see Di Canio's impact.

Former Sunderland forward Martin Smith says he is already excited ahead of the 2013-14 campaign as Paolo Di Canio prepares the Black Cats for their seventh consecutive top-flight season.

Smith, who played 145 times for Sunderland in a spell spanning nine years, believes that the Italian head coach will prepare his side to be sharper than ever.

“I’m excited for pre-season,” Smith told “I think it’ll be tough for the players because he’s definitely going to make his mark.

“I’m sure he’s got everything built in his head now for what he wants to do in pre-season.”

Smith also spoke of how pre-season has changed since his own playing days – stating that the professionalism and intensity of the game has increased.

“It’s different to when I was playing, as you got older it changed but when I first started the game it was a case of you finishing [for the summer], off you went and then you’d put a bit of weight on, come back, and lose it,” he explained.

“As the seasons went on and the professionalism came into it more you would have a week or two off, then you’d be straight back in to keep yourself fit.

“You would come back and it wasn’t so hard because you were fit and you’d go to start the football side of it quicker.”

Smith feels a big boost to Di Canio’s options will be the return of striker Steven Fletcher, who is continuing his rehabilitation following ankle surgery.

The Scottish international scored 11 league goals this season before the injury, sustained on international duty with Scotland, forced him to miss the remainder of the season.

“He [Fletcher] came in and started the season so well; he scored with his first five or six chances and really settled in,” Smith said.

“The injury curtailed his season and, when he was injured, I think we’ve seen how important he is to the club when he plays.

“Hopefully he’ll come back in the same sort of form for next season.”