Monsieur Salut writes: what were our honest expectations for the coming season on, say, Friday night? And 24 hours later, after SAFC 0-5 Celtic? Did they dip still lower after hearing Darron Gibson’s unwisely expressed assessment of the true level of commitment among the players at Simon Grayson’s disposal? Too many questions. Let’s see how an outsider views our prospects …
After a disastrous 2016-2017 season, Sunderland face a difficult test in the Championship.
Having ended last season with only six wins and six draws in 38 Premier League matches, producing a measly of 24 points, the club has been focused on strengthening the squad in the summer transfer window.
The original idea may have been to find a side capable of gaining promotion once again to the Premier League. Unless the humiliation of Saturday’s final pre-season friendly proves a blip, the sights may now need to be lowered.
Sunderland are not the only big club in the second tier. Among those standing in the way of an instant return to the top are Aston Villa, Fulham, Hull City, Middlesbrough and Wolves. Winning Friday’s opening game at home to Derby County already looks a tall order and manager Simon Grayson realises competition will be tough with so many teams looking for promotion.
For the past 10 years, Sunderland have played in the Premier League.
The list of clubs vying for promotion shows the kind of company they will now be keeping.
In the past, it may have been easier for such clubs to gain promotion to the top flight. Now, many analysts describe the Championship as one of the toughest and most competitive leagues in the world, taking account of the drama and excitement it generates.
Sunderland have six top-flight title wins to their name. However, other Championship heavyweights such as Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, with strong histories of their own, have the capability to upset recently relegated sides.
Perhaps Grayson does not concern himself too much with history. According to him, it may be that only the present situation matters – and that translates as the job of winning promotion.
Sunderland began the close season needing to make heavy recruitment. Grayson’s appointment came after a painfully slow search for a new manager and he arrived at a time when many saw the club as facing a major overhaul, with as many as 13 players set to leave.
If there are big name clubs in the Championship, there are also big name players. Grayson has managed more than 250 Championship games so should know his stuff. Despite doubts on whether the club has strong enough financial support to replace departing players, he should still – in addition to the signings already made – have quality targets who can recognise a club worth joining.
Before the Celtic debacle, some pundits believed Sunderland would win instant promotion. I’m keeping a close eye on Sun Bets to see what the football betting odds are for Sunderland to get promotion this season. Let’s hope the team can bring in some results for their fans!
Although last season was devastating, bookies thought it should be easy for them to win a promotion. Forget the pre-season ups and down; this is the primary reason why you should bet on Sunderland’s comeback even with uncertainty surrounding the future of their players.
But Sunderland must improve in all key areas and for that the club requires funds. Funds seem likely to be raised by selling players such as Lens and Khazri – to help recruitment. The key is to sign quality players, though many current players may wish to stay at the Stadium of Light in an attempt to make their way back to the Premier League.
But Grayson should not be shy in signing loan players and free agents if they are good enough. Loans have been shown to provide Championship clubs with quality players without making a dent in the transfer budget.
Huddersfield utilised this extremely well last season and earned promotion through the play offs; this may be something Sunderland should be looking at.
The key to doing well in the Championship is to not spend too much. History suggests that adding too many players to your squad can massively hurt the team morale. We saw this with Derby County in the 2015/16 season; they were in excellent form but after they unnecessarily signed more players in January, their season nosedived.
Bur Grayson will need a leader on the pitch as a role model to motivate the current and new set of players. One example is Lee Cattermole who has been at the Stadium of Light for a good part of his career. However, he has captained Sunderland through the tough times, so there may be a case for a fresh skipper to bring a new type of leadership to the squad.
Grayson realises that it will be diffcult to find top-notch strikers.
But Sunderland are in serious need of a reliable and recognised attacker who can carry the team as Jermain Defoe did. A decent striker could make the difference between a poor and a good campaign. It’s simple. Goals win games! Can Lewis Grabban, on loan from Bournemouth, provide them?
And as important as a striker is, Grayson also needs a strong midfield, players who not only run and dictate the game but score goals as well. Will new signing Aiden McGeady offer these qualities? Can Didier Ndong, young hopefuls such as George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch and even Cattermole rise to the challenge?
The answers to all of these questions, and whether Sunderland are serious promotion challengers or merely a club in transition, should become clear in the early part of the season about to begin.