Sunderland were given an
extremely slim chance of yo-yoing back into the Premiership at the first time
of asking by the bookmakers this season.
They were made ninth
favourites to secure promotion, behind teams like Wolves, Norwich and Derby,
and not much action went on them. It is easy to see why as Sunderland’s
financial model was not exactly the epitome of prudence and they had to offload
several players to trim their wage bill after finishing bottom of the
Premiership. They gambled on beating the drop and it failed and now they are
shorn of the services of Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford, Victor Anichebe, Seb
Larsson, Fabio Borini and more.
But experienced head Simon
Grayson has replaced David Moyes and made a few interesting signings. Early
signs have been very positive as the Black Cats took four points from their
opening two games. It should not be lost on fans that they drew with Derby and
beat Norwich, both teams that have been rated as having a better chance of
earning promotion than Sunderland this season. Grayson is rightly delighted
with the start to his tenure on Wearside and he should be full of optimism as
Sunderland have invariably done very well in this division.
However, if they want to
bounce straight back up to the Premiership they may need to loosen the purse
strings and speculate to accumulate. Compare them to rivals Middlesbrough, who
were also relegated last season but clearly were better prepared for the drop.
They have kept the bulk of last season’s squad and thus far supplemented it with
£45 million worth of talent. That is why they were installed as joint
favourites to win the division, along with Aston Villa, who broke the bank to
sign former Chelsea captain John Terry on high wages. The likes of Wolves,
Fulham, Sheff Wed and Leeds have all significantly strengthened and Sunderland
could do with some more players that know this division well.
It is a case of so far, so
good in this summer’s transfer market for the Black Cats. Aiden McGeady has the
potential to take the Championship by storm, and James Vaughan and Jason Steele
are solid players at this level. But there are still several weak areas in the
squad and key positions that Sunderland need to bolster their ranks in.
The most obvious gaping
hole is at centre back. So far they have kept hold of Lamina Kone and Papy
Djilobodji and if they are still at the Stadium of Light come September 1 it
will be a real coup for the club as they both shone intermittently over the
last couple of seasons and could star in the Championship if they find
consistency. But Jan Kirchoff and Joleon Lescott have both gone and
reinforcements are needed at the back.
Another problem area is on
the wing. McGeady is an excellent signing and Duncan Watmore is a decent
option, while George Honeyman looks an interesting prospect. But Sunderland
have lost Borini, shipped Jeremain Lens back on loan and moved on Steven
Pienaar and Will Buckley. If they can keep Wahbi Khazri it would be another
coup, but like Kone he is agitating for a move away and could go.
And arguably the biggest
area that needs strengthening is up front. Defoe kept the team afloat with his
goals for a couple of seasons but he did not get much support. Vaughan looks
decent but there are question marks over his ability to score enough goals to
fire the Black Cats to promotion. Newcastle and Brighton went up automatically last
season because Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray were on fire. Sunderland need
someone like that because their rivals can count on the likes of Britt
Assombalonga, Jonathan Kodija and Chris Wood.
These are clearly areas
that Grayson needs to address, but it must be an extremely difficult job right
now. Many of his squad feel they are above playing in the Championship and
several are looking to move on. If Grayson can keep Kone, Djilobodji, Khazri,
Jack Rodwell and Bryan Oviedo they will have the sort of side that really can
challenge for the Championship title. But that is a big if. Either way, Grayson
and Martin Bain need to go on a recruitment drive. There have been changes to
the backroom staff but that duo needs to set about finding proven Championship quality,
bringing in a couple of stars from abroad and ideally securing the services of
a couple of players plying their trade in the Premiership.
Painful as it may be to
hear, Newcastle played a blinder in the summer transfer market last season and
they were rewarded with the title. They sold their stars and trimmed the wage
bill, and they brought in just the right players to win promotion. Convincing
Matt Ritchie and Gayle to drop a division and join the revolution was a real
triumph, but they were sold on the dream of joining such a big club that would
soon be back in the top fight. Sunderland are a similarly big club and can sell
a similar dream. If they get it right they will walk this division following
their strong start. The latest Sun Bets football betting odds
show they have already gone in to 9/2 to be promoted, but they are still ninth
favourites. That will not last long if they make positive moves in the market
and snap up the likes of Yassine Ayoub, Sean Raggett and more, so it might be
worth backing them sooner rather than later.
Martin Green is an experienced
sports writer and tipster. He spent several years living in the North East and
hopes Sunderland can return to the top flight soon.