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OPINION: Sunderland should take inspiration from the success of other ‘big’ clubs in League One

What can Sunderland expect heading into the unknown quantity of League One football, and can history advise us on how to find success?

Sheffield United v Chesterfield - Sky Bet League One Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

It could be argued that Sunderland are perhaps the biggest club to play league one football for quite some time. Following back-to-back relegations, the Black Cats will be plying their trade from their lowest league position in a generation.

However, a summer of change both on and off the pitch has rejuvenated a club on its last legs, with new owners and a young and enthusiastic manager uniting a fanbase once more.

I, along with most Sunderland fans, can be forgiven for not knowing an awful lot about England’s third tier of football, with the sense of League One being an unknown commodity very much swirling around Wearside. Sunderland are not the first big club to have fallen from grace and find themselves in League One, nor will they be the last.

Let’s take a look at how the last five ‘big clubs’ fared during their first seasons in the third tier.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship
It still hurts.
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Blackburn - 2017/18

Former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers were perhaps unlucky to find themselves in League One, with a tally of 51 points from 46 games not enough to save them from the drop as they finished 22nd (this tally would’ve found them safe in 18th place during the 2017/18 Championship campaign).

Tony Mowbray and his team were an impressive force as expected the following season, though. Picking up 96 points from 46 games during their first ever season in the third tier, Rovers signed 13 players in the close season in preparation for League One, with Peter Wittingham, Bradley Dack and Dominic Samuel proving to be decent signings.

With a total sum of around £2-3 million spent on an automatic return to the Championship - which was largely recouped by a certain North-East team overpaying for a useless goalkeeper named Jason Steele - Rovers sold or released 13 other players in what was a large turnover of personnel for the club. But it was a gamble that paid off.

Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
Former Sunderland man Danny Graham in action for Blackburn
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Bolton Wanderers - 2016/17

This was Bolton’s first season in England’s third tier since 1993 after finishing rock bottom of the Championship with a poor return of 30 points from 46 games in the previous campaign.

The off-season saw Wanderers cut down on their sizeable squad list, with 22 players released, and a further six sold by the club - most notably Rob Holding who joined Arsenal for a fee of around £2.5 million.

On July 1st it was stated that the transfer embargo that the club had been under since the preceding campaign was to be moderately lifted by the Football League, which enabled the club to purchase nine players and loan a further 8 players without spending a single penny throughout the whole season.

This alone makes their 2nd place finish all the more impressive, with a run of 11 wins from 13 games in late autumn a huge building block for the team’s success.

Oldham Athletic V Bolton Wanderers- Sky Bet League One Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Wigan Athletic - 2015/16

The Tics were relegated to League One after finishing the previous season second bottom of the Championship on 39 points. Subsequently, Wigan offloaded a number of high earners from the payroll over the summer, with high-profile names such as James McClean, Scott Carson, Martyn Maghorn and Jermaine Pennant leaving.

In total, 18 players left the club that summer while 20 came into the club - most notably Jussi Jääskeläinen and Northern Ireland international Will Grigg, who continues to impress at the club to this day after his £1million arrival.

The 2015/16 League One campaign was a tight race, with 7 points separating 1st from 7th spot. The Tics managed to clinch top-spot following an outstanding run of form that saw them lose just two games in from 19th December onwards with summer signing Grigg notching 25 league goals.

It’s also worth noting that Wigan loaned a certain Mr. Donald Love for the campaign, with the Scottish supremo making seven appearances. Hardly a coincidence that a side with Donald Love in it managed to finish top of League One, is it?

AFC Bournemouth v Sunderland - Premier League
You shall not pass.
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

Wolves - 2013/14

Wolves plied their trade in England’s third tier for the first time in over 20 years following their 23rd place finish in the Championship the previous year.

As a result of their woeful Championship campaign, then-manager Dean Saunders was sacked and replaced by Ex-Milwall gaffer Kenny Jackett. To say the appointment was successful would be an understatement as the midlands outfit securing top spot with a record 103 point tally from 46 games, losing just 5 times all season.

Wolves had a decent budget for League One, with 8 players coming in on permanent deals totalling £3million. This was funded via player sales, with high-profile names such as Wayne Hennessey, Leigh Griffiths and Adam Hammill all departing.

Summer signing Kevin McDonald particularly impressed, winning players of the season from both fans and players alike. Wolves would continue to progress over the following seasons with a number of mid-table finish and strong promotion challenges before finally securing their return to the top-flight last season under Nuno Santo in emphatic style.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Carlisle United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Portsmouth - 2012/13

The 2012/13 season was yet another nail in the coffin for Pompey in what was a startling downward spiral for the south-coast club. In 2008, Portsmouth won the FA Cup and two years later they reached the final again, whilst maintaining their status as a regular top-flight side.

However, mismanagement from the top led to the club plummeting into administration before relegation to the Championship and then League One. A story eerily similar to Ellis Short’s tenure on Wearside, and a stark reminder that had Stewart Donald and co. not turned up, then Sunderland could have likely followed a similar trend.

Pompey finished rock-bottom of League One on 32 points from 46 games, a tally that would have seen them relegated anyway despite their 10 point deduction for going into administration. The 2012/13 season in terms of player turnover was simply staggering, with 75 players leaving for little over £2-million combined during the course of the season.

They have been in League Two ever since until the 2016/17 season where they won the League Two title on goal difference. They maintained their League One status last year and will now face us this coming campaign as they look to climb the leagues once more after what has been a disaster for the best part of a decade.

Portsmouth v Coventry City - npower League One Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

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