We all know that next season - a crucial and potentially transformative one in the club’s recent history - will be something of a slog.
When you take into account our league schedule, plus the Papa John’s Trophy and potential League and FA Cup fixtures, a packed calendar is a certainty, and there will no doubt be countless talking points and plotlines as the campaign unfolds.
However, four of next season’s matches now come with greater significance.
The games in question are Lincoln at home and away, and both fixtures against Wigan. Granted, revenge might be on our minds against Lincoln, given how they ended our play-off run in suitably gut-wrenching fashion, and it goes without saying that we certainly owe Wigan one after the results against them last season.
Given the transfer activity of recent days, perhaps the main point of interest will be the fact that, on August 7th, we will line up against a Wigan team that will most likely feature Max Power & Charlie Wyke in its starting line-up, and likewise, when Lincoln arrive on the 13th of November, we will be greeted by the sight of Chris Maguire emerging from the opposition’s changing room, after three years at Sunderland.
Reunions with ex-Sunderland players, it seems, will be one of the orders of the day during 2021/2022 - and that’s before you remember that George Dobson will be plying his trade for Charlton next season.
Suffice it to say, the questions and the theories have been flying around since these pieces of transfer news were confirmed. Did Wyke leave purely for the money? Will his goals be replaceable? Will Maguire find Appleton’s methods to his liking, after never being known as the greatest trainer in the world when he was at Sunderland?
Ultimately, what’s done is done, and all we can do now is look forward.
One thing is for certain.
Wyke, with the benefit of a regular supply line and a confident mindset, certainly strengthens Wigan’s team, and Maguire adds definite value to Lincoln’s attack, too. Only time will tell if we have made an error by allowing our League One rivals to snap them up, but nevertheless, they’ve obviously made the moves that they feel are right for them, and that’s fair enough.
So, how to analyse the respective Sunderland careers of Wyke and Maguire?
If you look beyond the well-worn tropes about how Wyke was the ‘worst 31-goal striker in football history’, and how Maguire was an unreliable luxury player who desperately needed a roaring crowd in order to perform at his best, we’re left with two players who, for better or worse, have undoubtedly played their own role in the often-turbulent recent history of the club. We’ve had many players in recent seasons who have failed to live up to expectations, but it would be incredibly churlish to bracket these two in that category.
On Wyke, I do believe that his contribution last season shouldn’t be overlooked.
Yes, he benefited tremendously from the return of Aiden McGeady to the team, and many of his goals were finishes of the most basic order, but prizes aren’t awarded for the aesthetics of scoring. Even a cursory glance at last season’s scoring chart bears out Wyke’s importance, because the gap to Grant Leadbitter was colossal, and had Wyke not found a rich vein of form, God only knows where we would’ve finished in the league table.
Granted, he wasn’t the kind of dynamic striker that Ross Stewart will hopefully prove to be, but as the likes of Will Grigg and Danny Graham faded from view, and goals proved harder to come by, Wyke assumed the burden and performed admirably. I don’t think that should be forgotten.
As for Maguire’s time in red and white? Spectacular goals, no small amount of wind-ups and an affinity for the club that was easy to spot and certainly infectious.
Remember the volley against Portsmouth to give us the advantage in the playoff semi-final, the late, late winner against Ipswich, and the wonder strike to salvage a point against Crewe. He always seemed to relish the opportunity to become the hero, and he was one of a very small number of Sunderland players I’ve genuinely enjoyed watching since we dropped into League One.
Wyke and Maguire have moved on, and we now have to do the same. This week has largely been a positive one, with Luke O’Nien and Aiden McGeady both signing new deals, but now our business needs to ramp up, as we seek to rebuild and reinvigorate the squad, and time is now undoubtedly of the essence.