SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Sunderland manager Jack Ross during the pre-season friendly game between Sunderland AFC and SC Heerenveen at Stadium of Light on July 27, 2019 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

Sunderland will spend a second successive season in League One. The Black Cats suffered play-off final heartache last season and will want automatic promotion at the second attempt. Key players have been kept and several have been brought in. Should lessons be learned from last season, Sunderland should be fighting for automatic promotion.

Sunderland Season Preview

Last season – 5th League One
This season’s division – League One
Home Stadium – Stadium of Light
Opening game – Oxford United

Last Season

Two relegations in a row saw Sunderland fall from the Premier League to League One. New owners came in, as well as a new manager in Jack Ross. Many new players also arrived as the club targeted automatic promotion at the first attempt.

An eventful season saw the Black Cats fall short of their target. In and around the automatic promotion places all season, Sunderland finished in the play-off places. Defeat in the final to a last-minute goal against Charlton Athletic consigned the club to at least one more season in England’s third tier.

Pre-Season

Off the field, takeover talks were dominating headlines during the first part of the summer. A deal to sell the majority of the club’s shares was close to happening. However, the deal, although close, couldn’t be agreed. Mark Campbell revealed in the Sunderland Echo why his takeover bid failed:

“We had the club valued and our price that we agreed to buy the club at the very start, when we first made the bid, dramatically changed as time went on,” he explained. “There were certain components of the deal at the end that weren’t going to work for the club.”

On the field, Sunderland began their preparations in pre-season with a comfortable 2-0 victory at South Shields. A trip to Portugal saw the team face a Benfica B team and also Belenenses. One draw and one defeat saw the Black Cats return to Wearside without scoring a goal. However, at this stage, fitness is the most important thing. Dutch side SC Heerenveen then travelled to the Stadium of Light and left with a single goal victory.

Transfers in So Far

Goalkeeper Lee Burge and defender Jordan Willis arrived from Coventry City after their contracts expired. The Black Cats beat off competition from several Championship clubs to sign both players.

Defender Conor McLaughlin signed after his contract expired at Millwall, while striker Marc McNulty arrived on a season-long loan recently from Reading and Walsall’s captain last season, George Dobson, signed permanently for an undisclosed fee.

Transfers Out So Far

Long-serving midfielder Lee Cattermole was a surprise departure this summer. The combative Cattermole had been with the club for ten years. Full-backs Donald Love and Reece James also departed. They signed for Shrewsbury Town and Doncaster Rovers respectively.

Goalkeepers Robbin Ruiter and Max Stryjek left for PSV Eindhoven and Eastleigh. Defender Lamine Kone also left on a permanent deal having returned to Strasbourg where he spent last season on loan.

Sunderland Season Preview: Key Players

Aiden McGeady

McGeady was Sunderland’s main man last season. He has committed himself to the club and it is highly likely he will be the main man once again. He, single-handedly at times, dragged the Black Cats through games with his goals and assists. If Sunderland are to achieve their aim of automatic promotion, McGeady could be the key to unlocking some stubborn League One defences.

Will Grigg

Should Grigg hit the heights of his previous seasons in League One, he could top the scoring charts. Signed in January, the former Wigan Athletic hitman has had a frustrating time on Wearside. Niggling injuries prevented Grigg from finding form. However, with a successful pre-season (fitness-wise) behind him, this coming season could be a success.

Chris Maguire

‘The King’, as he is affectionately known, had both successful and frustrating times last season. His skill and passion made him an instant fan-favourite. However, injuries and a spell out of the first-team due to several out-of-sorts performances, stopped his season being as good as it could have been.

An on-form Chris Maguire is a game-changer with his stunning goals. He could be a major factor in Sunderland having a successful season.

Jon McLaughlin

Signed on a free transfer last summer, McLaughlin was the reliable, safe pair of hands needed after some calamitous displays from goalkeepers before him. A reported transfer target for several clubs after his impressive displays last season, Sunderland will be desperate to keep their number one. Another big player who can earn the team points on his own.

More Huge Attendance’s Expected

An average attendance of over 32,000 watched their team at the Stadium of Light last season. A League One record of more than 46,000 saw a victory on Boxing Day. This season close to 25,000 season tickets are expected to be sold, a staggering number for League One. Average attendances are therefore expected to be over 32,000 once again.

Season Expectations

This season’s goal, like last season, is promotion. Sunderland fell just short last season having endured upheaval on and off the field. This summer, although takeover talks have been ongoing, manager Jack Ross has had a squad to deal with, unlike last year. This time last summer, Ross was struggling for numbers with many comings and goings.

Anything less than promotion will be seen as a huge disappointment. A club the size of Sunderland should not and cannot stay in the lower tiers of the Football League for too long. Financially it would become more difficult. Even this summer, deals in the millions are not being spoken off.

As many fans, players, staff and owners alike would say, promotion for Sunderland is a must this season. As fans will know, it is rare that their club does things the easy way. Just one season would be nice though.

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