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

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Roker Roundtable: How many of Sunderland’s current squad can step up to the Championship?

With second-tier football to look forward to for 2022/2023, which of our current players could make the grade at the next level?

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I’m conscious that I could be viewing this through rose-tinted spectacles, but I honestly believe the squad isn’t a million miles away from being ready.

That might change once I’ve seen some games and got a handle on what the level is like in the Championship nowadays, but after such a good run of form over the last few months, I think the majority of players can step up.

If some of our loanees return, we’d look particularly strong in terms of attacking midfielders, and I think it is more a case of needing to improve our depth in certain areas rather than undertaking a full overhaul of the starting XI.

Full back would be the priority for me in that regard, to ensure we are covered in case of injuries, and a different type of striker might stop us flogging Ross Stewart, while also offering us some variety.

Elsewhere, you’d probably want cover at centre back, and maybe an experienced goalkeeper to push Anthony Patterson, but the issue is that ideally, you'd want to upgrade, and that is hard if you don’t want to spread your resources too thinly.

You also have to be careful not to upset the dressing room. At the moment, it looks like we’ve got a good team spirit, and that can take you a long way.

I have no doubts that we’ll be linked with all sorts of names this summer and everybody will have to be patient if things don't fall into place quickly, but we are coming from a stronger starting point than in the past so there’s no need to get desperate.

I thought we were pretty canny in the market last summer. Our out-of-contract pick ups were good, and the younger prospects had decent pedigrees, so fingers crossed for a similar level of business again.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Martin Wanless says…

For once, we’re approaching a new season with the benefit of a year of strategic recruitment behind us – and hopefully that will mean this summer sees a period of building on solid foundations rather than ripping everything up and starting again, which has been the case for the majority of pre-seasons for the past decade.

I feel we’ve got the nucleus of a squad capable of making the step up – the likes of Ross Stewart, Alex Pritchard, Patrick Roberts and Danny Batth, for example, should all make that transition seamlessly.

That said, I think it’d be foolhardy to expect the whole team to be capable of doing so, and if we have top half aspirations we’ve got to be pragmatic and ruthless when it comes to our summer recruitment.

With Lee Burge and Thorben Hoffmann departing, we’re certainly in need of a new goalkeeper – whether that’s as backup to Patterson or a first choice remains to be seen. My heart says the former, my head says the latter is probably smarter.

We played the majority of last season with one fit full back, Dennis Cirkin, who was playing his first campaign at first team level, and Carl Winchester is another who did an admirable job for most of the season.

I would expect us to strengthen in both full back positions – although I do expect forgotten man Niall Huggins to be able to step up to the Championship, but his fitness remains a concern.

In the centre of defence, Danny Batth should be fine, and I think Bailey Wright could cope too, but I would hope we bring in another couple of centre backs – and in reality we need to have the mentality that any signing we bring in is better than what we have.

The one thing a Wright/Batth combination lacks is pace, so I’d love to see Dion Sanderson return. With rumours swirling that Wolves are willing to sell, he could be one we’re back in for.

While Corry Evans excelled at the back end of the season, I think we’re also in need of some reinforcements in the centre of midfield.

Will Luke O’Nien be capable of stepping up? Maybe, although his passing needs to improve if he’s to nail down a regular starting berth in midfield. Potentially, we might be better off pushing him back to right back, where he was excellent a couple of seasons ago, and given that I’d expect one, if not two, central midfielders to arrive. Of course, Dan Neil and Jay Matete will hope to have something to say about that.

Our attack behind Stewart is well-stocked – particularly if we can bring Jack Clarke back either on loan or a permanent deal. Either way, we need competition and backup for the Scot. He was running on empty for a few months, and we were incredibly lucky he didn’t pick up an injury last season.

So, while we don’t need a major overhaul, I do think we’ll bring in a goalkeeper, two full backs, two central defenders, a central midfielder and a couple of strikers/forwards – eight players, all of whom need to be challenging for a first team place.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

Starting with strengthening, I think our attack is the main area to focus on.

We really got away with it last season, after relying on Ross Stewart to play as many games as he did, and the fact he did so after coming to us with a slight injury is a testament to him and the physios who kept him from missing matches.

I’m on the fence regarding Nathan Broadhead, purely due to him being a good striker but very injury-prone. Even if we sign Nathan, we need another striker for the challenges to come in the Championship.

I would also like to see us reinforce the midfield with another creative dynamo if possible. When we lost Alex Pritchard for a portion of the season, we were less effective as a unit and our flow and attacking creativity were hugely impacted. Dan Neil may well bulk up and step up, but I would like one more creative asset for the middle of the park.

In defence, we clearly need reinforcements at full back, and I would like at least one more centre back to cover for Bailey Wright and Danny Batth.

With Callum Doyle back at his parent club, we need a couple of decent defenders, and I’d also like us to start the season with a couple of solid choices at left back, for once!

In terms of those who can make it in the Championship, Wright, Batth, Corry Evans and Stewart are more than solid options for me. I think Patterson has a good chance of keeping the green jersey to start the season, and Pritchard was made for this league or the next.

I’m also looking forward to seeing what Elliot Embleton, Luke O’Nien and Carl Winchester can do, but I don’t necessarily think all three of them will thrive. Patrick Roberts and Leon Dajaku have skills more suited to the Championship than League One, and if we do get Broadhead back and can keep him fit, he will score for sure.

As I write, I am convincing myself that we have the spine of a decent team for the season to come, but the one thing we cannot do is bask in the memories of Wembley and get complacent.

We have to remember that we finished fifth in the league across forty six games, and only got promoted by being the best at knockout football across three matches. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Kristjaan Speakman and Alex Neil need to build a squad to consolidate and ideally push for a sniff of the playoffs during the second season.

I trust in Neil and Speakman to do that, but I’d like to see movement soon so we can have a good pre-season.

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


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