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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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The Championship checklist starts now

“While all associated with the club should rightly celebrate their achievements there is plenty of questions which need to be answered before we take to the pitch in July,” writes Jon Guy.

The work starts now to ensure we are ready to step up next season
| Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

In many ways it was a perfect Wembley occasion for Sunderland and the fans. The sheer numbers and noise made by those in Red and White turned it into a home game, and the response from the team was evident.

We controlled large parts of the game, score a stunning first, and then just when the nerves were starting to kick in Ross Stewart fires in a second to get the party started in earnest.

I will never forget it, and feel so lucky to have been in the stadium to witness it.

As the players head off for the summer the club now has a checklist of major issues that need to be addressed in the next two months if we are to be in a position to give the Championship a good go.

I have spent much of the journey home from Wembley trying to think of what needs to be delivered first.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Once again, sadly, the biggest issue is the ongoing uncertainty in the boardroom. Talk of a split over whether to accept a bid for the club dogged our play-off campaign. Now we know where we will be playing our football next season, it needs to be sorted one way or another.

We cannot expect to have any chance to build on our playoff win if the very ownership of the club is in doubt, as who will want to commit to the club if there is not consistency in the boardroom.

Second, we need to ensure that we keep Alex Neil. The current rolling one-year contract needs to be exchanged for a long-term deal which will allow the head coach to begin building a dynasty at the SoL. I believe if he is given a realistic level of financial backing, he can restore the club to its former glory.

He is the type of manager that the club needs. I get the feeling he understands the scale and potential of the club and views it as the size of club that suits his talents.

Third, once Neil is back behind his desk, he has a big job to do to create a squad capable of Championship survival and beyond. There are huge questions to be answered. Can we keep Ross Stewart? Does he make an offer to Nathan Broadhead?

Anthony Patterson has done brilliantly, but does he bring in an experienced keeper as our number one? Clearly, he does not want to activate Hoffmann’s buy-out clause, so there are likely to be changes in the goalkeeping department.

Cory Evans has had a great end to the season, and Neil clearly wants an anchor in his midfield to screen his defence. Does he believe Evans has what it takes to do the same job in the Championship? He will need to look at who in the squad has the capability to step up to Championship level.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Finally, we the fans have a job to do.

Alex Neil and all at the club will be looking to mount a promotion charge next term. The size of the club means we will be seen as likely being in the shake-up at the end of the campaign. However, as fans we need to take a realistic view on the season ahead.

This is viewed as the toughest division to get promoted out of and Norwich, Watford and Burnley will arrive in the Championship smarting from the sting of relegation, but with millions in parachute payments and strong squads.

We need to look to next season as one in which we have to compete in the division, but if we don’t get promotion, we will have enhanced the strength of the playing squad and be ready to have another crack the year after.

I hope that if we are not in the top six next season it does not mean we start to call for the boss to go. It took four years to escape the third tier, and next year will be a tougher ask given that we will be faced with firms with established and expensive championship costs.

We can enjoy the summer relish in the memories we have been able to create this weekend, and hope the club can get cracking on with the checklist.


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