Salut! Reflections has developed into a corner of Salut! Sunderland for outsiders, not usually supporters of SAFC. The contributions range from blandly stating the obvious to offering interesting or pertinent points about the progress or lack of it of our club. Even after heavy editing, those in the former category struggle to shine.
This is at the higher end, more imaginatively written, up to date and opinionated. Since we are assured the author, William Sundin, is a media production graduate from Sunderland University, there may be a good reason for that. What we certainly hope to be true is that his failure to see the qualities of Lewis Grabban reflects his shortcomings, not the player’s …
You’ll often hear the Championship described as one of the most competitive – nay, one of the finest – leagues in Europe.
People making such utterances don’t generally support teams mired in the lower middle of the table and below.
Admittedly, England’s second tier is competitive although you sense that as Reading bid £10m to sign Nakhi Wells, the divide between the rich and the frugal will erode some of that competition. But is it one of the best leagues?
It certainly isn’t pretty. For example, take a look at Ipswich, who are essentially the custodians of the Championship.
Seventeen years have passed since Ipswich finished admirably in fifth position in the Premier League under George Burley, who won the manager of the year award and a place in the Uefa Cup; sadly relegation followed a year later and not a lot has happened since to bring end-of-season smiles to Portman Road faces.
Joe Royle guided them to the playoffs (twice) within the first three seasons in the second tier, only to be thwarted each time by West Ham. Jim Magilton brought attacking football that flirted with the playoffs, but paid the price for falling short.
Roy Keane then brought his own inimitable management style, before Paul Jewell arrived with a nicer demeanour, a raft of on-loan players – and no real quality.
Then came the saviour in the form of former Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy, a man generally appreciated wherever he goes because of his straight talking and scrupulous behaviour. McCarthy took Ipswich back to the playoffs, with huge thanks to Sunderland legend (ahem) Daryl Murphy, but of course it had to be Norwich who got in the way.
Since then, Ipswich fans have accepted that McCarthy’s brand of not-pretty football is probably enough to avoid relegation and probably not enough to get back into the playoffs.
Sixteen summers out the top flight – 17 once this one is over – and it may be an oversight on the part of the authorities to have not renamed it the Ipswich League Featuring 23 Others.
So how does all of this tie in to Sunderland?
Well, Sunderland are not widely fancied to bounce straight back up, as I’m sure fans are well aware. There is a reason that Sunderland are ninth favourite to take the title – you can decide yourself if they are worth backing at a price of 14/1 with Sportsbet – while the squad still has undoubted quality, it looks like one that belongs firmly in the chasing pack for the playoffs.
Teams are roughly divided into those who are probably spending too much and those who aren’t spending enough.
Sunderland could do with more reinforcements if they are to be battle-ready for the Championship. James Vaughan and Aiden McGeady are talented, but their talent looks insufficient when Middlesbrough go out and spend half a Pogba on an array of attacking options including the clinical Britt Assombalonga. Meanwhile, I feel compelled to say that former Norwich striker Lewis Grabban is absolute garbage, but you probably should disregard that – and will naturally hope his form for Sunderland makes me eat my words.
Simon Grayson is an astute manager at this level, a McCarthyesque figure who is well liked by neutrals.
If only he could retain the flair of Wahbi Khazri and Jeremain Lens then there’s plenty to worry Championship defences, most of which include at least one centre-back with the turning circle of a combine harvester. Another advantage for Sunderland is that other than Middlesbrough (sorry), there are no real candidates for taking the league by storm.
But therein lies another problem; you never know what is going to happen. In 2011, Ipswich lost 5-2 to Southampton and 7-1 to Peterborough in consecutive matches, a season in which Town later went on to beat Barnsley 5-3 and West Ham 5-1.
Sunderland are just as likely to win the league as they are to finish bottom, but then so is everyone else. The big spenders aren’t guaranteed success, shown by Derby’s inability to go anywhere, and the smaller clubs like Huddersfield can thrive on morale and chemistry.
So ultimately, who knows what will happen. Welcome to the Championship.