RR: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing a team coming up from League One after promotion in their first season back?
Elm Park Royals: Coming up from League One is a challenge for any club, some find goalscoring tricky (See Peterborough last season), others find keeping goals out tricky.
I think the major difference from my perspective is the quality difference on average you come up against means retaining possession of the ball is just not as easy as it may have been against the teams in League One.
It makes creativity much tougher, particularly if you are a slow ball-playing team.
RR: Everyone knows that Sunderland are a massive club, even at this level. How much do you think that counts in the Championship?
Elm Park Royals: Given how many “massive” clubs there are at this level, I don’t think it’s a huge advantadge anymore to be a big team.
Only five clubs in this year’s Championship have never played in the Premier League.
Of the remaining nineteen, probably half will harbour expectations to be challenging for a spot (plus one or two of the non-Premier League teams as well).
It makes recruitment potentially a bit easier, as playing in front of a full home stadium every few weeks is likely to sway some players. However, there are also the downsides to being a massive club, such as fan expectations.
RR: What would you say is the hardest thing about the Championship?
Elm Park Royals: The relentless nature of it when you’re on a downswing is soul-crushing as a fan, and can’t imagine it makes it much easier for a player.
Last year, Reading went three months without winning, and travelling up and down the country knowing we were going to get beaten by two or three goals was horrific.
Injuries can play a huge part in how a club’s season goes at this level - one or two critical injuries can totally change the next few months, and the face of the season.
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?
Elm Park Royals: The main thing to get promoted is parachute money - spend it wisely and the club is likely to be near the top of the league.
Don’t, and you end up like Cardiff, Reading, Derby, who all got relegated but haven’t been back to the Premier League for years.
Outside of having parachute payments, the critical thing is good recruitment to fit the system. Buying players who don’t fit the system you want to play will hugely hinder you as a team. This is where Reading really have struggled over the last few years, by buying players without really knowing what role they are going to play.
RR: Do you think that there’s a big difference between the clubs in the Championship and the clubs in League One, or not?
Elm Park Royals: There is a big difference between the clubs at the top end of the Championship and the top of League One, certainly.
However, I think the top end of League One (and probably the entire top ten) could survive a Championship season, or at least perform admiradbly.
There is always going to be some basket case current Championship clubs who will have poor seasons meaning that League One clubs coming up should always have a shot at staying up.
Contrast this to the Premier League, and clubs are more likely to be able to spend their way through confusion and chaos, in a manner similar to Newcastle for example.
Championship clubs just don’t always have this option - Barnsley for example from last season.
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?
Elm Park Royals: Luton have had an upwards trajectory now for a number of years, and seem to have really adopted the mantra of next man up. Backed with a really good manager, it makes sense to me they’ve kept improving.
I would expect a team like Coventry to perhaps be similar (although maybe not quite as successful) in establishing themselves.
Barnsley are a slightly different kettle of fish with Dike being such a highlight of their playoff season. I don’t think the well established clubs struggle as such - however there does seem to have been more of a ceiling on them over the last five years or so.
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?
Elm Park Royals: Over-payment of wages to players in the last decade vs revenue.
Clubs have realised that there’s no need to go and spend £3m on a player when the reality is they can wait and sign a free agent who will likely give them similar productivity.
I think the free agent market will continue to grow for another summer or two at least until we see clubs start to try and force their way back to the top of the league table by spending big.
The FFP rules which have seen Reading, Birmingham and Derby all take points deductions in recent seasons must also be playing some deterrent to teams as well.
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?
Elm Park Royals: (Nearly) every club will have high hopes for the season, and will expect to finish mid table or better.
Obviously it isn’t realistic for all the clubs to finish 14th or better! If you set yourself realistic viewpoints on finishing above the weak teams in the league, and remain happy with those, establishing yourself in a seasons time is by no means a bad thing.
Avoiding relegation has to be the first and main goal for a side who’s been stuck there for many years.