One of the biggest distinctions between the Premier League and the Championship, aside from the obvious difference in quality, is the sheer frequency of games played.
Premier League outings are a weekly occurrence - fortnightly in the instance of international breaks - but the Championship is a completely different animal. As we’ve seen already, fixtures are rapid and at times a merciless toll, with the second-tier teams often facing three games a week.
Has this change of pace boded well for Sunderland? Will it continue to do so? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as we might like it to be.
There’s a number of reasons on either side of the fence to suggest that playing more frequently could either help or hinder. For the sake of having a structured argument, we’ll start with why it could help.
One of the key features apparent in Simon Grayson’s tenure which sets him apart from his predecessors is the opportunities and responsibilities he’s bestowed upon the club’s youth products.
The likes of George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch have kept the fringes of the Sunderland first team in the corners of their eyes for a while, and given the fact that they’re now both in their early twenties, they won’t be considered to be the clubs ‘wonderkids’ for much longer.
Should their exclusions from regular first team football on Wearside have been prolonged any further, the likelihood would’ve been that a lack of game would’ve forced their hands - and they’d both have to seek a run-out elsewhere.
The fact that Grayson has given the likes of Honeyman and Gooch a chance ensures we’ve got at least two players who will play their hearts out for the shirt, simply because they both know this could be their only real chances to make it at a club the size of Sunderland - and the more frequent fixtures of the Championship will be the catalyst for their ambitions.
Let’s say, for example, Gooch starts against Sheffield United and turns out a largely underwhelming performance before the inevitable seventy-fifth minute substitution for Darron Gibson is made.
Our next game is only three days later at home to Nottingham Forest, and if the USMNT international is as ambitious as he’s shown himself to be hitherto, he’ll be raring to go again to prove any new potential doubters wrong - and he’d only have to wait a mere seventy-two hours in order to do so.
The difference in time may seem trivial, but the extra four days you’d have to wait for the next opportunity to prove yourself in the Premier League might just be enough time for the youngster to allow his confidence to wane somewhat.
Now for the flipside of having frequent fixtures.
As it stands, Sunderland’s squad sorely lacks strength in depth in most areas of the pitch. Not only does this make us particularly vulnerable to injuries, it also makes our gameplan laughably predictable at times.
Let’s look back at the Leeds game last weekend. The West Yorkshire side didn’t have too much trouble doing their homework on us - after all, we’ve been fielding the exact same team in every league game this season.
Aiden McGeady’s clinical deliveries have been the most prominent aspect of our offensive outlet and Brendan Galloway has been our weakest link by a long-shot as he continues to play like a player completely out of his favored position. It doesn’t take much cognitive motion beyond common sense to deduce that we can be found out by doubling up on McGeady and exploiting Galloway’s flank.
We’re becoming far too predictable because this team, with its strengths and weaknesses becoming more glaringly obvious with each passing week, are consistently playing together. A few new signings would ensure that we can change it up a bit when necessary in order to keep the opposition guessing.
Fielding virtually the same team with such a rapid-fire series of games will prove to be a double-edged sword. Let’s hope we can wield one edge and manage not to get impaled by the other.