It’s been over thirty years since Sunderland played in the third tier of English football, and with the dust kicked up from our drop from the Championship having long since settled, the start of our first ever venture into the newly named League One is quickly approaching.
Of course, last season we weren’t the only ones to be sent here from the Championship, alongside us were Burton in 23rd place and Barnsley in 22nd respectively - both with 41 points. How are our fellow relegatees getting on? Will they pose a challenge to the title charge we’ve been predicted to mount?
Last season in the Championship, Sunderland were subject to two defeats against the South Yorkshire team - a three-nil walloping away from home and a one-nil defeat at home earlier this year. However, Barnsley failed to stay in the Championship and were relegated into League One with us after a 4-1 defeat to Derby County on the final day of the season. The last time the Tykes were in League One was the 2015/16 season before securing promotion to the Championship by beating Millwall in the play-off finals.
Barnsley seem to share the same misfortune as Sunderland when it comes to managers. Since their last season in League One, Barnsley have had three helmsmen come and go through their own revolving door, and now former Hannover 96 boss Daniel Stendel has become gaffer number four after signing a two-year contract with the club.
The Tykes’ previous coach and knock-off Mourinho clone Jose Morais took over from Paul Heckingbottom in February earlier this year, who was subsequently announced as Leeds United’s manager just three days after signing his new contract with Barnsley. At the time Heckingbottom left, Barnsley were 21st in the Championship, however new boss Morais couldn’t prevent the Tykes’ noses above water after they won only three out of fifteen games under his leadership and left the club following their relegation.
The Reds have had a really good pre-season over the summer period. Three wins, two draws and a loss will certainly leave Barnsley feeling confident for their League One campaign this season.
One key player who keeps cropping up in Barnsley’s pre-season games is Welsh forward Tom Bradshaw. Bradshaw contributed significantly in all of Barnsley’s pre-season games, getting on the score sheet for their 0-2 win against Gainsborough Trinity and nabbing an assist and a goal in Barnsley’s 7-1 victory against York City.
Although he’s not always the most prominent figure on the score sheet, the common theme is that he’s a grafter and links up especially well with fellow forwards Victor Adeboyejo and the gargantuan Kieffer Moore.
Another man who has stood out for Barnsley this pre-season is George Moncur, who also scored in Barnsley’s 3-0 win over us in August last season. Moncur ran the show in the Tykes’ 1-1 draw against Budaörsi SC in Hungary, scoring a goal and making good runs. The aforementioned Kieffer Moore is another Barnsley player to look out for, during pre-season, the quintessential ‘big man up top’ been a menace for the opposition, linking up well with his team-mates and scoring in two games.
Moore is truly tireless when playing - and is most certainly someone we’ll have to watch out for.
Barnsley have had a very quiet transfer window so far, although they have managed to keep key players from their Championship squad in preparation for League One, though Reading signed their full-back Andy Yiadom on a free transfer after his contract expired and midfielder Stevie Mallan transferred to Hibs after just nine appearances for Barnsley last season.
In terms of player consolidation, The Reds have given young goalkeeper Jack Walton a new three-year contract and , 19-year old defender Ben Williams has been given a contract extension until 2020 after an impressive display of performances in Barnsley’s U23’s squad. Williams featured in five of Barnsley’s six pre-season games.
Barnsley have only signed one player so far in this transfer window bringing in midfielder Kenny Dougall from Sparta Rotterdam. Dougall featured in their final pre-season game against Hull and had a huge impact by scoring the goal which led to a 1-1 draw.
Barnsley’s impressive pre-season and their ability to keep their important players from last season suggests that they will be title contenders. Forward Tom Bradshaw is a player to watch out for due to his work effort and ability to link up well with his team mates.
Additionally, midfielder George Moncur is another player to keep an eye on, he looks menacing going forward, can seek out passes and has the ability to score goals - which he did against us in the 3-0 defeat to Barnsley last season. The Tykes’ attacking options this season could pose a problem for us; their offensive outlets work well together and all but one of their strikers have proven their goal scoring ability in pre-season.
Barnsley open up their League One campaign against Oxford United on Saturday.
The games we played against Burton Albion last season were marginally better. We beat Burton away from home with late goals from James Vaughan and George Honeyman, resulting in a 0-2 win. However, the Brewers were the ones who planted the final nail in Sunderland’s coffin to secure our relegation to League One - featuring, of course, a goal from former player Darren Bent leading to a 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light in April.
Burton were subsequently relegated on the final day of the Championship season against Preston North End, and much like Barnsley the last time Burton played in League One was the 2015/16 and were promoted into the Championship alongside the Tykes.
Burton have been managed by Nigel Clough since December 2015 after Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink left to manage QPR - Clough led the Brewers to promotion to the Championship in that same season. This is now Clough’s second stint at Burton after acting as a player-manager for them between 1998 and 2009, still remaining as Burton’s manager following their relegation to League One.
Following on from their relegation back into League One, Burton were quick to offer six of their key players from last season new contracts. Three of them accepted, all of them signing a one-year extension on their contracts, including goalkeeper Harry Campbell, and defenders Damien McCrory and Jake Buxton, the latter being the Brewers’ captain hitherto.
However, the remaining three players rejected the contracts offered to them. Defender Tom Naylor has departed to Portsmouth and midfielder Hope Akpan has moved to Bradford whilst winger Lloyd Dyer is still looking for a club.
Whilst manager Nigel Clough has reiterated throughout the summer that he is keen to let younger players get some games in League One this season, the Brewers have also made a couple of additions to their squad in an attempt to fill the void left by those who rejected new contracts. Midfielder Scott Fraser signed for them on a two-year deal from Dundee and winger David Templeton also signed on a two-year deal from Hamilton.
Burton’s pre-season hasn’t been one to write home about, with only one win out of five entailing plenty of high scoring affairs at their expense, a 5-1 loss to Cardiff and a 4-0 loss to Aston Villa being the worst of those.
If that wasn’t bad enough for the Brewers, they also lost to two National Northern League sides - Solihull Moors FC beat them 3-2 and Alfreton Town beat them 5-2. In Burton’s sole win, they could only muster a 2-1 win over Kidderminster to prevent their pre-season from being a complete washout.
However, there were glimmers of hope for the Brewers throughout their summer warm-up; young talent Joe Sbarra had a good pre-season scoring in three of his side’s six games, standing out as being a player to watch out for with plenty of shots and chances.
He only started playing regularly for Burton’s first team last season and in twenty appearances, he started four times and made two assists. It would be reasonable to presume that League One might be ideal for Sbarra to showcase his increasing talents. Another player who stood out in pre-season was Damien McCrory, who recently extended his contract for Burton. He appears to be a strong member of the Brewer’s defence and able to have a go at scoring, narrowly missing a couple of free kicks during pre-season.
Overall, Burton’s summer so far would suggest that they aren’t going to be title contenders in League One this season. Although they have brought in a couple of new players during the transfer window the fact still remains that three of their key players from the Championship last season rejected new contracts when offered.
More to the point, judging by Burton’s poor pre-season it would be reasonable to suggest that Sunderland should be beating them. Although pre-season results aren’t always the most accurate reflection of how a team will perform in their league, Burton have not shown any signs of progression throughout theirs. They won one game near to the start of the summer by the skin of their teeth and were subsequently beaten by two National League sides - there are clear defensive weaknesses within their team; in nearly all of their pre-season they have conceded between two to five goals.
Burton kick off their League One season at home to Rochdale on Saturday.