So, what’s next? I don’t think any of us were actually prepared for promotion, but here we are, waiting for the Championship fixtures and the excitement of trips to the likes of Preston, Millwall and Stoke. How will we do?
I saw an interesting tweet this week, from someone with 55 years of experience of watching the Lads who could only recall a couple of genuine mid-table seasons. One was 1988-89, when we last came out of what was then the Third Division.
I remember it well. The mood at the time was one of ‘consolidation’ which is exactly what happened. It wasn’t too bad but we were a long way from promotion and our season effectively ended when we got thrashed at home by Walsall in early February. The rest of the season was a non-event and all the talk at the time was about how unusual it was, that we weren’t fighting relegation or going for promotion.
Many of the clubs who leave League One find themselves going back there pretty soon - look at the likes of Peterborough, Rotherham and Barnsley, sad yo-yo teams. Will this be our fate? I doubt it. I have a lot of faith in Alex Neil, he really seems to know what he can achieve with the group of players at his disposal, and of course we have another transfer window to benefit from.
I was looking at some old programmes the other day and found one from the first game of the 2017-18 season where Simon Grayson (remember him?) said “we’re by no means the finished article ... the project we’re on will not happen overnight”, as an explanation for the Celtic pre-season debacle.
Well, no team is ever the finished article, but did Grayson ever have a project? Alex Neil, I feel, does have a plan for the club and I’m looking forward to it. We have the basis of a really decent squad and the emphasis on youth is brilliant.
It’s also interesting to see how players like Gooch and O’Nien, still relatively young, have now played nearly 200 games for Sunderland so have massive experience which can really help us next season.
With a good pre-season I can see us... well, mid-table. Could we do better? Maybe, but I don’t want to get carried away. Let’s see what those first ten games show us, but if we have an uneventful last ten weeks of the season I’ll be happy,
Back to that match day programme... the current product is an embarrassment. There will be non-league clubs which produce a better programme than we do. I know there will have been cost-cutting and the programme is not the biggest deal, but now we are heading up again could some money be invested in a better product?