Last season – Relegated from Premier League
This seasons division – Championship
Home Stadium – Stadium of Light
Opening game – Derby County, August 4th, 7:45pm. Final score 1-1
After a rollercoaster decade of playing in the Premier League, Sunderland could no longer keep producing great escapes. After a hugely disappointing season, the Black Cats were relegated with games to spare. They now find themselves back in English football’s second tier and will have a tough season ahead of them as they attempt to return to the Premier League at the first attempt. Their performance in the opening game however, a game they should have won, will have gave players, staff and supporters confidence.
2017-18 Sunderland Season Preview
Summer of uncertainty
With a new manager required, Sunderland owner Ellis Short was also trying to sell the club. Several potential new owners were rumoured to be close to agreeing to a deal; however, negotiations continued week after week. The uncertainty of who would be in control of the club was also having an affect on bringing in a new manager. After a deadline which was set by owner Short for the completion of a takeover past, it was confirmed that the American would stay in control for the foreseeable future.
After weeks of ‘will he, won’t he’, David Moyes finally left his position as Sunderland’s manager after the final game of last season. Many were rumoured to be favourites for the job until Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes was formally approached. He declined the job. The uncertainty over who would be in control appeared to play a major role. The Black Cats quickly moved onto their next target, Preston North End boss Simon Grayson. He accepted and was quickly installed as Sunderland’s new manager.
Grayson is seen as the ideal man to steady the ship at Sunderland after several turbulent years. His success in the Championship and the lower leagues as well as keeping Preston in the Championship on a small budget appealed to the Black Cats’ owner and Chief Executive Martin Bain. His CV in the leagues below the Premier League is impressive but he has yet to guide a team to the the top flight of English football.
With a seemingly limited budget, Grayson got to work on acquiring new recruits to bolster his new but thin squad. In came Everton youngsters Brendon Galloway and Tyias Browning on loan and their teammate Aiden McGeady for around £250,000.
Last season’s League One second top scorer James Vaughan was signed from Bury for around £500,000. Keepers Jason Steele and Robbin Ruiter also signed. Steele from Blackburn Rovers for £500,000, Dutchman Ruiter, a free after impressing whilst on trial. Bournemouth striker Lewis Grabban also signed on loan for the season. Until funds are made available from sales, loan signings and free agents appear to be likely. Although this may look bleak, Simon Grayson knows this end of the market well and could pick up some bargains and build a very capable squad.
Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford and Fabio Borini are the most high profile players to have left this summer. Striker Defoe left on a free transfer and joined Bournemouth. Keeper Jordan Pickford joined Everton in a £30 million pound deal and Borini returned to his native Italy to join AC Milan. Several other players also left for pastures new. Unfortunately for new boss Simon Grayson, it appears that very little of the funds that have came into the club via transfers or the parachute payment from the Premier League has or will be made available.
The Black Cats have not had the best of times during pre season. Some narrow victories have come alongside some unimpressive draws and disappointing defeats. The latest a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Celtic. However, too much can be made of results during pre season, what happens from the opening game of the season is what matters.
With the likes of Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford departing, new signings and/or retained players will need to step up. A fit Lee Cattermole could be vital to Sunderland in the middle of the field. Injuries restricted his playing time last season to just nine games, but when he has played his leadership qualities, passion and ball winning capabilities are there for all to see.
If and it is at this stage a big if Jeremain Lens and Wahbi Khazri are still at the club come the end of the transfer window, then both have the talent to set the Championship alight. However, with funds needed to strengthen the squad, both Lens who is being strongly linked to Besiktas, and Khazri could be sold a lot sooner than later.
Several youngsters could be given opportunities too. Duncan Watmore who suffered an injury that kept him out for the majority of last season could be fit soon. The England U21 international was establishing himself in the first team when the injury occurred. The fast paced forward/winger has the potential and ability to cause defences plenty of problems in the Championship.
Forwards Joel Asoro and Josh Maja have both shone in the the Black Cats academy sides. Asoro’s form and potential has had top clubs both in England and in Europe watch him. Maja, who has impressed during pre season seems to have a bright future ahead of him. If he gets his chance this season, expect him to work hard to stay in the team and score goals too.
Middlesbrough will be this seasons closest thing to a derby once more due to the absence of main rivals Newcastle United. Once again the Wear-Tyne derby will be put on hold as both will ply their trade in different divisions. With Sunderland hoping to be challenging at the top end of the table, many games will be key this season due to the plethora of clubs that could be challenging for promotion. The Black Cats will be hoping that they can once again make the Stadium of Light a fortress as home form could be key to a successful campaign.
The Black Cats are going to have it tough this season. Half of the Championship could conceivably be in contention for promotion to the Premier League. As always seems to be the case, Sunderland have endured a difficult summer. With many players coming and going it may not be easy to get off to the best of starts. However, the positive performance in their first game against Derby County has given fans optimism. Although the game ended 1-1, Sunderland should have won the game. They also produced a performance not seen for some time by supporters.
Promotion at the first attempt will be difficult. With some extra quality in the playing staff and positive performances on and off the field then the Black Cats will be hoping to be there or thereabouts come next May. Sunderland fans have everything crossed.
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