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Sunderland must learn from last season’s EFL winners & losers, or else disaster looms large

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Sunderland could do well to look at Walsall and Aston Villa’s contrasting campaigns last season to understand how we can overcome our current plight.

Sunderland v Gillingham - FA Cup Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Saturday afternoon match in November between one side in the play-off places pushing for promotion against another side after an encouraging start to the season, seemingly petering out.

After a disappointing performance from Sunderland, a late goal from an academy graduate rescues a point... does that sound familiar? No, it isn’t last weekend’s match against Coventry I’m referring to. It was the away match at Walsall last season, and it could act as a warning to the club’s current desperate plight.

It wasn’t until after the result at the hands of Burton - the team that relegated us from the Championship - that a certain realisation truly kicked in. By their own admission, there is a huge difference between Walsall and Sunderland. However, a year ago - after a positive start to the season - the Saddlers early season promise had started to fade by the time they faced Sunderland at the back end of November.

After the break, Walsall took a seemingly commanding two nil lead, only for Sunderland to peg them back for a draw. At that point, there appeared no indication that Walsall were going to struggle, let alone be relegated by the end of the season.

Walsall v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

For some weeks, as Sunderland have stumbled from one disastrous result and performance to another, the saving grace has been the thought of the January transfer window. If Walsall is one example how things can go wrong, then Aston Villa are the other example of what Sunderland must do to turn things around.

Last December while the Black Cats were pushing for the automatic places the papers were linking Villa with an approach for defender Tom Flanagan following some promising performances.

Instead, the Villa boss, Dean Smith, turned to Tyrone Mings. In no time, he would cement his place in the side for Aston Villa and play a pivotal role in winning promotion via the play-offs. In contrast, while Flanagan remained in the Sunderland defence until the end of the season, his performances worryingly trailed off and has never matched his early form.

So, Sunderland must tread carefully, this January window could be the most important of the club’s history.

Oxford United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Round of 16 Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Get it right as Big Sam did in his only transfer window and we can still push for promotion. Get it wrong, and Sunderland may not only fail to make the play-offs, but worse still, be dragged into yet another relegation scrap.

A sobering thought, while Walsall didn’t have Sunderland’s depth or resources – though it’s done us few favours recently – at least they had a regular League One goal scorer in Andy Cook.

Sunderland are not in the league we all want, but the biggest worry appears to be the old ghosts that have haunted the club for too long are looming again – instability, under-performing and under-achieving.

The fans have seen some terrible times but have endured. Hopes have been high and dashed so many times, but what fans won’t forgive is a lack of character. December will show just what they are made of, and if that isn’t good enough, then whatever their capacity, the worst offenders should not be part of Sunderland’s set-up come February.