RR: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing a team coming up from League One after promotion in their first season back?
SBFTV: The biggest challenges that Cov City faced after their promotion from League One was the sheer relentless nature of the Championship.
Our first game we were a goal down inside 12 seconds and then lost 2-1 at Bristol City after being the better side. We then regularly leaked goals for the first batch of games which was odd given how solid we were the previous season.
Also, you are playing against some players who’ve been to World Cups or Euros, so any mistake is usually punished. You don’t get many let-offs or second chances.
We tightened things up and went a bit more defensive plus less expansive managing to not lose many games (10 games unbeaten) which gave us some breathing space.
Championship experience is massive, so a few old pros in the dressing room can make a big difference.
RR: Everyone knows that Sunderland are a massive club, even at this level. How much do you think that counts in the Championship?
SBFTV: Having a big home and away support does make a difference. The team can thrive on that at times during the season. Saying that, being a massive club can also have its negatives as players might not handle the pressure.
There have been some massive clubs who’ve struggled in the Championship in the past but there are now a lot of former Premier League clubs in the Championship, so the standard has risen considerably.
There are probably three groups in the Championship - the relegated teams from last season & the season before, the teams still getting parachute payments & then another group of probably 10-15 teams who could finish anywhere from play-offs to bottom three.
RR: What would you say is the hardest thing about the Championship?
SBFTV: The schedule which is going to be even harder this season. We had runs of games when we played Blackburn & Preston away then Derby at home, or Fulham & Forest away with Blackburn at home.
Long midweek travels are tough, and if you have a small squad it’s a hard slog.
There are no easy games. We were lucky to beat Barnsley at home last season and lost to them away and only drew twice with Derby (both teams who were relegated). Conversely you can get points off the big boys as we did the double over Fulham and we took points off Brentford, Watford & Norwich the season before.
RR: What do you believe it takes for a team to get promoted out of the Championship, and where do you think your club has failed over the years in that respect?
SBFTV: Promotion from the Championship is usually down to the teams with the biggest budgets and who buy and sell well.
There is hope when you look at Forest getting promotion last season without spending lots of money and utilizing the loan market successfully, and also Sheffield United’s promotion a few seasons ago.
Brentford have shown as well that buying well and selling at a large profit can lead to success and promotion from the Championship. The likes of Luton & Huddersfield making the playoffs and also Millwall’s playoff bid have shown that there is an opportunity for a team to make a playoff push this upcoming season.
A good defence & keeper is a key to success in the Championship, as Coventry’s slide from top 6 last season was largely down to injuries in defence and a lack of clean sheets regularly losing games 1-0 (Boro away, Millwall at home & Luton at home as examples).
Coventry lacked the squad depth but were very unlucky with injuries/Covid at times last season. Losing Matty Godden to an appendix operation plus injuries to Waghorn, Dabo, Kelly, Eccles and Kane causing massive holes in our team.
RR: Do you think that there’s a big difference between the clubs in the Championship and the clubs in League One, or not?
SBFTV: The biggest difference between the Championship and League One is the jump in quality, as a lot of Championship teams have internationals and players with Championship experience, and also a lot more strength in depth.
Teams can replace an international with another international if necessary.
RR: Why do you think well-established clubs struggle to gain momentum in the Championship, whereas in recent seasons smaller clubs like Luton and Barnsley have successfully broken into the Play-Offs and came close to promotion?
SBFTV: I think it’s the expectations of the well-established clubs which adds to the pressure on them. Both Luton and Barnsley played a very direct style with a good target man and midfielders who scored goals for them. Momentum in the Championship can be a big thing as there are usually two or three teams that go on great unbeaten runs of form to be in the promotion/play-off picture. A good manager helps as well, as both Ismael and Jones knew how to get the best out of their squad.
RR: Figures show that Championship clubs in recent seasons are spending far less on transfer fees than they have in previous years. Why do you think that is?
SBFTV: The impact of Covid and the lack of crowds in stadiums for over 12 months along with the horror stories of Bury, Bolton, Derby & Oldham have probably led to more sensible management by owners, and an emphasis on being streetwise in terms of spending. Also a lot of good Championship players have not had their contracts renewed so bargains are to be had as clubs look to cut back on wage bills.
RR: Sunderland fans aren’t quite sure what to expect from the Championship - what would your advice be to any SAFC fans reading this when it comes to expectations?
SBFTV: Expect the unexpected - the team will get results from games you don’t think they should and lose games they should win.
The week in the Championship can see a team climb up the table or slide down it. Home form is key to being out of the relegation zone along with staying in games as lots of teams have won points late on in the Championship (Coventry especially last season).
Enjoy the wins but don’t get too downbeat on the defeats - a point in the Championship is a good result.