Sunderland’s season in the Championship sucked. It sucked from the moment an inconsistent Leeds United team ran rings around us at the Stadium of Light in August.
Or maybe it was being out-played and out-muscled by Barnsley in the following league fixture - a game that highlighted just how unprepared Lee Cattermole and co were for the hustle and bustle of Championship football.
However there is a light at the end of the tunnel; unlike the Championship that has chewed and spat out several ex-Premier League Clubs, League One has rehabilitated several teams who have used the division as a Launchpad back to the promised land of Premier League football.
League One is the division that 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City waltzed through nine years ago.
Southampton spent two years in the division and started the culture shift that took them all the way to a top eight Premier League finish and a League Cup final.
League One is where the club’s new ownership started to implement their strategy which allowed the Saints to over-achieve impressively for three seasons, up until their troubles this year.
The Black Cats have managed to win ten league matches twice in the past seven seasons; no ex-Premier League club that has been relegated to League One in the last ten years has failed to reach that marker.
Half of the ex-Premier League teams to have been relegated to League One in the past ten years have gained promotion at the first time of asking. Two others arguably missed out due to non-footballing circumstances. Alan Pardew’s Southampton were one of the outstanding teams in their first season in the third tier, but missed the playoffs due to a ten point deduction. Sheffield United were in pole position to return to the Championship at the first time of asking before their best player, Ched Evans, was jailed just weeks before the season’s climax.
Only two ex-Premier League teams that recently dropped out of the Championship suffered a further relegation: Blackpool and Portsmouth. It seems unlikely that we will be number three, for they are two of the only teams in England that have had worse ownership issues than Sunderland in the past decade.
Switching managers shouldn’t be a concern for Sunderland fans. Up until this season every ex-Premier League team that has returned to the Championship in the past ten years did so with a different gaffer at the helm. Tony Mowbray has broken the rule, the former West Brom boss couldn’t save Blackburn’s season when he took over from Owen Coyle last year. However, he has stayed on and got the club back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
In terms of the profile of Sunderland’s new manager, history suggests we should target someone with a deep understanding of the Football League and an experienced coach. Of the ten managers to have taken an ex-Premier League club back into the Championship, only Chris Powell was a first time permanent manager in the Football League. Powell was hardly a novice either, he had experience within Leicester City’s coaching staff and was briefly their caretaker manager.
Seven of these ten managers had won promotions elsewhere, something which is true of the top three betting favourites for the Sunderland job, currently. This may also have been part of the thinking in the decision to sack Chris Coleman. The 47-year-old has never achieved promotion as a manager, and has only ever coached one top half finish in club football.
The uncertainty over who will be playing for Sunderland next season is also quite common for big clubs that have plummeted to League One.
Only three Leicester City players made their most common starting eleven in both seasons. Southampton kept their starting goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, as well as Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin (somehow?!) for both their seasons in League One. The rest of their promotion winning squad was made up of newly signed Football League veterans and promising youngsters promoted through their youth ranks.
Relegation should offer Sunderland the opportunity to refresh our playing squad.
Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea are coming off the back of their worst seasons in red and white and shouldn’t be at Sunderland by August. Kenny Jackett made one of his first moves as Wolverhampton Wanderers boss to place high profile, highly paid ex-Premier League performers - Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ward, Jamie O’Hara, and Karl Henry - on the transfer list. This didn’t impact the team’s performance as Jackett returned Wolves to the Championship immediately relying on younger, less heralded players.
As with any relegation, Sunderland will likely see their best players poached and picked up - as heart breaking as that will be. In place of Jordan Pickford, we have two new prized possessions we’ll struggle to hold onto in Paddy McNair and Joel Asoro.
As hurtful as it would be two see to outstanding talents leave with their best football ahead of them, it shouldn’t affect our short-term goals.
Every club that has dropped into England’s third division has shifted experienced, expensive performers and sometimes had to part with their best prospects. Almost every team that has bounced back has trusted their scouts and recruitment teams to attract the best players from the lower reaches of the Football League, and that is what we should do.
One trend that Sunderland will hopefully be able to follow is poaching the stars of other smaller lower league clubs.
It was after relegation to League One that Southampton and Norwich City signed Rickie Lambert and Grant Holt from Bristol Rovers and Rochdale. Both fired their clubs not only out of League One, but were crucial in promotions out of the Championship as well. The misunderstood journeymen also enjoyed breakout seasons in the Premier League at the tail-end of their primes. This season Bradley Dack has been the standout player in League One for promotion winners Blackburn Rovers; he was signed after catching the eye at Gillingham.
Next season should be fun and ought to see Sunderland achieve promotion. The Championship in theory offered a well needed antidote to the monotony of seeing defensive Sunderland sides barely avoid relegation. In reality, hopefully seeing Sunderland boss League One should help fans fall back in love with football again.