SUNDERLAND will head into the first friendly of the summer at South Shields tonight with new goalkeeper Lee Burge looking to impress.

The former Coventry City shot-stopper will get the first chance to shine in the absence of Jon McLaughlin, who is set to return to training after being allowed extra time off because of international football.

McLaughlin was Sunderland’s first choice in goal last season and impressed sufficiently to have attracted interest from Championship clubs.

The Black Cats are doing what they can do keep hold of him but with only one year remaining on his deal they know that they may have to concede defeat if a suitable offer comes in for the £5m-rated former Hearts man.

Burge is only thinking about what it will be like to play with him, even though it is this summer’s recruit between the posts that will be starting against South Shields on Thursday night.

“I am really excited to start working with Jon because he is a top-class 'keeper,” said Burge. “I can learn a lot from him, and I hope we can drive each other to be better as we compete for game time and keep him on his toes.”

He added: “I am really excited for the game on Thursday and for the fans to see me in action for the first time. I just can’t wait to get on the pitch.”

If McLaughlin doesn’t figure it will be Under-23s goalkeepers Ahmed Abdelkader and Anthony Paterson who will be pushing for some action along with Burge.

Sunderland are taking a strong squad to the sold-out Mariners Park to face South Shields and they could include midfielder Dylan McGeouch.

The former Celtic man has decided to stay at the Stadium of Light despite interest in him from Aberdeen.

And Sunderland manager Jack Ross said: "[Dylan] and I had dialogue through the course of the season and dialogue again through the close season period. I didn’t want to lose him.

"I still feel as if he’s got something to offer here but equally you need that to work on both sides.

"But as a player he wants to try and prove he can be a success here, so it’s a pretty straightforward one then. At the moment that’s how the situation is, I didn’t want him to leave and he wants to prove himself here."

Nevertheless Sunderland are looking for a new midfielder but have been told to up their offer for Walsall’s George Dobson.

The Saddlers’ manager Darrell Clarke has suggested Sunderland’s offer for their captain was too low.

Sunderland moved for the 21-year-old midfielder to boost their ranks after Lee Cattermole’s departure, and they are keen to recruit younger players too.

Dobson was left out of Walsall’s 1-1 draw with Leamington on Tuesday night and Clarke, the former Hartlepool midfielder, has hinted that offers need to increase if he is to leave. There is also interest in Morgan Ferrier.

Clarke said: “They have shown a desire to leave, which is football. What I will say is they won’t be going anywhere until they meet the figure we have set, simple as that.

“For me, I have to build without them. That can change, you never know in football.

“The way the game works now, with agents involved, players see a big, big pay rise may be around the corner. And sometimes they want to leave.

“But they won’t be disrespecting the club. And to be fair they have been knuckling down. They won’t mess me about that’s for sure because if they do I’ll chop them off at the knees. But they know that.”

Ross is keen to bring a number of fresh faces into his squad this summer to improve the chances of promotion back to the Championship, but he has hinted that it will be a case of one in and out for him to do that.