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TRANSFERS: FIVE experienced freebies that Sunderland should look to target this coming summer

There’s nothing like a dose of reality to bring you right back down to earth but, yes, Sunderland are set to play third-tier football - and as such we may have to lower our sights on the recruitment front.

Blackpool v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Okay, okay - I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking... “is he for real?!” and the answer of course is yes. Because - if you hadn’t noticed - we’ve just been relegated to League One, and there’s going to be an overhaul of absolutely epic proportions this summer.

Whoever the man is that replaces Chris Coleman as Sunderland manager will have the task of rebuilding our broken team on a budget - and, as such, there will be the need to recruit experienced players that can add to our squad and show the type of leadership and work-ethic that has stood them in good stead over the years.

Here are five players that will be out of contract in the summer that I think could add something to Sunderland’s side as we launch our assault on League One next summer.

*Tin hat has been secured firmly atop my bonce.*

Jamie Mackie

Most Sunderland fans will hear the name Jamie Mackie and remember him as a forward not particularly known for his goalscoring prowess or unique ability, but as someone that fans love because he runs himself into the ground for the team, chasing everything down and ensuring that the flair-players in the side have the legs around them to create and take teams apart without having to worry as much about defending.

And that, going forward, is crucial. We need to buy in quality, of course, but I think that if Sunderland had more players in the mould of Mackie this past season we might have stayed up.

We’re going to need a large squad in League One, and having left QPR behind this past weekend to a heroes’ send-off he now needs to find a home elsewhere, somewhere more than likely in League One where he’ll get more minutes than have been afforded to him by Ian Holloway this season.

Grant Leadbitter

I expect that people may scoff at the idea of bringing back players to Sunderland that played for us years ago, but to me this one seems an absolute no-brainer.

Leadbitter has made a real success of his time on Teesside and whilst he’s not played as much as he might have perhaps liked since Tony Pulis arrived, he’s still a capable midfielder and, most importantly, is a leader.

Leadbitter is Middlesbrough’s captain and, before that, was integral at Ipswich Town.

He’s an experienced campaigner in the Football League and a return to his boyhood club might be something that tempts him, particularly as he heads into the final few years of his playing career.

Still fresh in my memory is his performance for Boro back in February at the Stadium of Light, in which he completely dominated the middle of the park and bagged himself a goal from the penalty spot in the process - putting to bed any doubts that he’s still got it in him.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Ross Wallace

Another former Mackem that finds himself out of contract this summer is Ross Wallace, who earlier this week was told by Sheffield Wednesday that they won’t be retaining his services next season.

Wallace is still only 32-years old and won’t struggle to find himself a club in the Championship, but even still I just wonder whether or not he’d be tempted to come back and have another stab at playing for the club in which he first made his name in English football.

Of course - in the case of all of these players that are a little bit older now and find themselves on this list - Sunderland can offer Wallace regular first team football next season. We’ll more than likely shift on a large number of top earners in the summer and that’ll include the likes of Aiden McGeady and Wahbi Khazri, meaning there’ll definitely be a spot or two for a wide-man in our squad.

Personally I’d love to see Wallace back at the club - some of my fondest memories as a Sunderland fan are of his wild celebrations after scoring important goals for us in the Championship.

Derby County v Sunderland Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Luke Steele

We’ve got some awful goalkeepers on our books at the minute, and whilst one man called Steele between the sticks has been more than enough for Sunderland supporters to stomach this season I can assure you that the other one, Luke, isn’t half bad at all.

He’s only played a handful of games this season for Bristol City as he’s been backup to Frankie Fielding, but still managed to impress when handed the gloves in the Robins fantastic run towards the semi-finals of the League Cup.

I reckon we’ll see something of a purge in the goalkeeping department this season and with that in mind I’d like to see at least one stopper come in that has shown they’ve got ability, character and desire - something that Luke Steele has in abundance.

Someone in the Darren Ward role is required - and, I know, Lee Camp was probably signed to offer us that and has been a disaster, but not all ageing Championship ‘keepers are completely terrible.

Derby County v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Jay Spearing

It might actually surprise people reading this when they hear that Jay Spearing has been proven as an incredibly effective League One midfielder in recent years, and whilst he’ll undoubtedly be offered a new deal by Blackpool in the summer he could well be tempted away from the Seasiders should the opportunity arise.

Spearing was a huge part of Bolton’s League One promotion the season before and has been virtually ever-present for Blackpool this season since signing for them back in October.

He might look like a 40-odd year old hod-carrier but he’s still just about in his 20s and has been praised repeatedly in recent seasons for his work-rate and leadership qualities.

He might seem like a bit of a bargain basement version of Lee Cattermole but the fact is that Spearing is very capable in the league that we’re about to enter, and for the grand sum of nowt we could do a lot worse than to recruit players with his qualities at that level.

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