How do you expect Sunderland to fare this season, and where in the table do you feel we’ll finish?
Gav: Despite an inconsistent pre-season campaign tailing off in horrendous style against Celtic, I do feel Simon Grayson will re-shape this club properly and whilst we may start slowly, we’ll finish strongly - in a similar fashion to Aston Villa last season. I reckon that a finish somewhere between 7th and 12th will be about right.
Dan Parker: It’s depressing that 6th would constitute a positive first season finish in the Championship, but that’s what I’m going for. Our pre-season hangover will continue into the first quarter of the season but I’m hopeful Grayson can turn it around in time for us to make the Playoffs.
Tom Walsh: Top by 5 points, what? In reality, I’d be happy with challenging for the play-offs.
Tom Atkinson: I know pre-season doesn’t mean much; however, this summer has definitely been more a cause for concern than a cause for optimism. The club still appears to be severely fractured, but I do think Grayson is the kind of character who can help us heal. A solid season and signs of improvement would be a success.
Henchard: An expectation-busting twelve months at Sunderland continues into year two with few anticipating a promotion charge at the Stadium of Light. I do fear things could still get worse at the club where anything that can go wrong usually does, but so too I imagine have those in charge hence the appointment of EFL specialist Simon Grayson. 13th.
Carl: This season will be one of consolidation for us. Like Gav, I reckon an upper mid-table finish will be a realistic target. I fancy Grayson to get the best out of the tools at his disposal in unspectacular fashion.
Graham: I think we’ll struggle in all honesty. I can see us having a similar season to Aston Villa last year. I’ll say 15th.
Do you think Simon Grayson will still be our manager come the end of the season? How do you feel he’ll do?
Gav: I think so. Grayson seems like the type of manager that you give time to in order to make things work and whilst people may feel disappointed if we don’t mount a serious promotion challenge this season, finding stability is key.
Dan Parker: Yes. We need someone to completely re-shape the squad while staying competitive. Grayson is that man and will last the season.
Tom Walsh: Yes. He’s already going to get a lot of leeway from supporters since he had the balls to take on this almighty mess. Struck the right chord stating how he saw Sunderland as a challenge and a step up, comes across as a canny bloke and unless things go royally tits up he’ll be here for a while.
Tom Atkinson: Grayson seems a solid, safe appointment who has previous in transforming struggling teams. Unless we’re rock bottom by Christmas, Grayson will stay and do a fair job. It won’t be glamorous, but it will be necessary.
Henchard: I didn’t particularly want him and still feel it was an opportunity missed but Grayson’s decent transfer business on a zero budget has at least had me reappraising his abilities. The fundamental problems at the club remain but at last a manager has walked in to the job with his eyes open. I suspect the initial ‘trust in Grayson’ rhetoric will quickly evaporate with a bad start but his brief is most likely to steady the ship in order that Ellis Short can restart sale negotiations. Assuming he does that and fans don’t begin protesting if things take a turn for the worse, he’ll likely last the season and beyond.
Carl: Yes. Steadying this ship is not something that is going to happen quickly, and if the board believe Grayson is the man to ultimately do it, they have to give him more than a season barring an absolute disaster.
Graham: Yeah, I think he’ll be trusted to get through this season, then maybe the year after build for a promotion. This season we have to accept will be a transition and steadying the ship.
Who do you think will be our best player?
Gav: Duncan Watmore. I honestly feel he’ll make a real impact this season, providing he returns with the same pace he had before his injury. Watmore is an incredibly tough individual and his time away from the pitch will have only made him hungrier to succeed.
Dan Parker: I think Watmore will become our go-to-guy when he returns from injury. Championship defenders will be terrified of him. And if we don’t sign another striker, Maja will be our best breakthrough player.
Tom Walsh: In a perfect world, it should be Wahbi Khazri. Since big Jerry Lens seems to be on his way and no bids in the offing, Khazri should really tear the Championship apart. Since this prediction will probably be null and void come September 1st, I’ll put Didier Ndong down as my second choice.
Tom Atkinson: A lot of the lads are mentioning Watmore, but the knee injury was pretty nasty and I think it will take him quite some time to rediscover his form from the beginning of last season. I think Maja - if given an opportunity - could be lethal at this level and I’d love to see him get his chance to shine.
Henchard: Most who have been to pre-season games have come away thinking Browning, Ruiter and latterly Grabban look decent. As for the rest, most will be found out at times again this term. A good campaign for Grabbers and Watters, but we need to wait till after Christmas for Duncan to regain full strength.
Carl: Watmore. He has the tenacity to be a real success in this division with his pace and energy, and seems like the kind of character who will be working as hard as possible to ensure he hits the ground running when he’s back in the side.
Graham: Assuming Lens leaves, I can see Ty Browning going on to have a good year. I was really impressed with what I saw from him in pre-season.
And who do you think will underwhelm us the most?
Gav: I’m going to say Brendan Galloway. He’s not really impressed me in pre-season and I don’t think we’ll see all that much of him once Oviedo is fit. Please prove me wrong, Brendan!
Dan Parker: If Kone stays then Kone. I don’t rate him at all and hope we can sell him for a profit while his stock is relatively high. If Kone does go, then I’d go for Rodwell. Because, well, Rodwell.
Tom Walsh: I’ve got this incredible sinking feeling that Aiden McGeady is going to be utter crap. I’m not basing that on anything (and don’t want it to happen) it’s just the one signing we’ve made that everyone seemed quite happy about so it’s Sod’s Law that he’ll be rubbish. Aside from him - take your pick from the rest of the useless jobbers that are still hanging around from last year.
Tom Atkinson: This season is all about how we perform as a team - part of my worry this summer was the struggle of several players to quickly understand Grayson’s new system and none more than Lamine Kone who has looked incredibly fragile at times. Where has our man-mountain gone?
Henchard: Jason Steele seems to have already become the man targeted as a poor signing. He’ll be reet with a bit of coaching and confidence though. With us landing several players whose careers are on the slide, any of them could easily continue to be pap. McGeady will have one good game in four.
Carl: After Jack Rodwell signed, I maintained faith that he would rediscover the promise of his Everton days and prove to be a crucial player for us. Over the past 18 months it’s become clear that it’s not going to happen. I reckon he’ll continue to amble through another year of his contract, defining mediocrity as he goes.
Graham: From what I’ve seen in pre-season I have to say Brendan Galloway. I’ve not been impressed at all. He looks slow and nervous. I definitely don’t think he’s a full back either.
Who do you think will be our toughest opposition next season?
Gav: Middlesbrough. Our recent record against them is shite and they’ve bought incredibly well in this window.
Dan Parker: This is a hard question! I’ll go for Sheffield Wednesday because I think they’re going to be monstrous at home this season.
Tom Walsh: Aston Villa will 1000% beat us home and away just so Brucey can give us the old “I got sacked because I was a Geordie” schtick. There’ll also be some desperately annoying team like **Googles Championship table** Ipswich that’ll be terrible all season but inexplicably stuff us 3-0. Oh, and Preston. Preston always beat us.
Tom Atkinson: I think Preston will be eager to give us a pasting. They’ve bought several talented youngsters and in Alex Neil they have a canny manager who knows how to get promoted.
Henchard: Probably Derby on Friday night. This is Sunderland - where a crisis can and will continue to escalate at will.
Carl: Wolves have the potential to be dominant this season. In Helder Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro, Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, they have players with the raw ability to tear defences apart. Far too much pace and flair for our back four.
Graham: Norwich have looked good in pre-season and will be there or thereabouts, but I don’t think any game will be easy. Anyone can beat anyone in this league.
Which club do you think will win the Championship?
Gav: Middlesbrough. They’ve got a brilliant manager and they’ve backed him with the funds to add to their squad, which you could argue was already very good to start with.
Dan Parker: Boro will win the league. Good signings, good squad, good manager. And a chairman who backs the club. I’m not jealous at all.
Tom Walsh: Since Middlesbrough have adopted Newcastle’s approach of splurging loads of money to win the Championship, it should be them who win it but they have a lovely habit of bottling it, as does Garry Monk. I would like Fulham to pip them but I’ve got a horrible feeling Aston Villa will win it.
Tom Atkinson: Fulham haven’t had a wonderful summer, but the likes of Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen will do well I think. Slaviša Jokanović is a top manager, and I think they could do well this season.
Henchard: Middlesbrough, Fulham, Sheff Wed, Derby, Leeds, Villa. Could be any of them. ‘Boro will be favourites and rightly so.
Carl: I have a feeling that a side like Brentford could challenge this season. There’s always a smaller club that gatecrashes the upper echelons of the Championship, and The Bees have a hard-working young side that could win plenty of games.
Graham: Again, it could be anyone - but I’ll stick with Norwich. They’ve had time to adjust to the league again, have made a forward thinking appointment similar to Huddersfield last year (something I wish we’d have done) and are one of the better sides in the league on paper.
And to round off quickly - who do you think the other two promoted sides will be, and who will be the three relegated teams?
Gav: Norwich to finish 2nd, Aston Villa to win the play-offs. Bolton, Bristol City and Millwall to be relegated.
Dan Parker: Sheff Wed to finish 2nd. Norwich to win Playoffs. Bolton, Millwall, and Forest will go down.
Tom Walsh: Fulham to finish second behind Aston Villa, Reading to beat Middlesbrough in the play-off final. Bolton with their transfer embargo and only being allowed to pay players £4.5k a week are really up slack alley, so they’ll be gone. Burton Albion will go with them as well as Queens Park Rangers, although I would LOVE Birmingham City and Harry Redknapp to get relegated.
Bonus prediction: Wolves will be rubbish.
Tom Atkinson: I think Boro and Villa will go up with Fulham. Bolton are struggling financially while Milwall haven’t really strengthened well - they’ll both go down. Bristol will struggle without Tammy Abraham, and their replacement for him, Famara Diédhiou, hasn’t exactly set the world alight in France; they’ll go down too.
Henchard: Middlesbrough and Villa with Fulham thereabouts for promotion. Barnsley, QPR, Millwall and Bolton to fight it out at the bottom.
Carl: Sheffield Wednesday 2nd. Bolton, Ipswich and Barnsley - who have had all of their best players pilfered - to go down.
Graham: It’s really tough to call. I’d say Aston Villa to sneak into the automatic places and Middlesbrough through the play offs. To go down - Bolton look like they’ve got problems again and Birmingham have been hanging around the bottom for a few years now, so those two. Barnsley did well last year, but have lost most of their better players so I think they could plummet.