As soon as Ross Stewart’s shot nestled in the back of the Wycombe net, Alex Neil’s thoughts will have begun to turn to the challenge ahead of him next season. First, he needs to keep the club in the second tier of English football. Then he needs to be thinking about how he starts to move towards leaving it - but in the right direction this time.
The latter point can wait. History is rarely kind to clubs who achieve consecutive promotions, as they struggle to compete in the higher leagues just two years after they were kicking off in the less glamorous League One. Along with some additions to the squad, Neil needs to hold on to the players who have got Sunderland back among the Championship potentials. From Bailey Wright, whose exploits will have persuaded his compatriots to enter the Ladbrokes bonus code in Australia, to club captain Corry Evans, some players are obvious names for retention. Some others, however, could see a future elsewhere - and Neil needs to dissuade them from that.
After seven years contracted to Manchester City, Roberts had a grand total of one senior appearance for Pep’s men. A couple of loan seasons at Celtic aside, his early twenties took him to France and Spain, as well as some less exotic stomping grounds like Derby and Middlesbrough. Sunderland is his first permanent home since his 2015 move to the Etihad - and his signing has paid off. He’s made all the right noises about wanting to stay and, still just 25, could be a key part of the future at the Stadium of Light. If the club is serious about getting back where it belongs, his short-term contract must be made more permanent.
This is a tricky one. He’s not a Sunderland player, technically, being under contract to Everton. But if Frank Lampard wants to avoid another season flirting with the drop, he’ll be expected to pick Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and probably at least one expensive new signing in the attacking third of the field at Goodison. While Lampard is known for giving young players a chance, it’s up to Sunderland to convince him - and Broadhead, for that matter - that regular first-team football at a lower level is in the player’s interest. With a goal every other game in the spell he’s just had, he’s exactly what’s needed on Wearside.
At 29, and having played for Norwich, Huddersfield and West Brom since he last featured for his first club Tottenham, Pritchard is a player who has experience at the top end of the Championship. After four seasons in League One, there’s a comparatively short list of Sunderland players who can say that for themselves. He knows what it takes to win games in this division, and that could be invaluable both during the early transition in August and late in the season when every point will count towards whatever the target is by then.