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Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship

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From Bristol to Birmingham, the Championship has given plenty of Sunderland-related joy this season

The dust has settled and now that it has, it’s pretty nice to reflect on one hell of a season for Sunderland on our return to the Championship, writes Paddy Hollis

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A few days have passed, and the deflating feeling of a playoff semi-final defeat has just about vanished.

It was an unusually disappointing performance from Sunderland, but it was simply a step too far against a Luton side who nailed their game plan on the night.

After sleeping on it, now seems like a good time to sit back and take stock of what we achieved this season. On a personal note, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one, this has been one of the most enjoyable campaigns in recent memory.

My season started at Bristol City, as our first away trip back in the Championship took us to the South West on an absolutely beautiful day.

With Sunderland colours donned proudly, I enjoyed pints in Bristol Harbour, a meet up with the Irish branch of Sunderland fans, and a leisurely walk along to Ashton Gate, a lovely stadium that I look forward to visiting again next season.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I wasn’t really too sure what to expect from the match but unlike League One, it was nice to actually recognise the names of the opposition players.

Around 4,000 Mackems had a great day out, and a competitive match was settled with a header right in front of us from Ross Stewart. The thing that surprised me from this trip was being able to get a pint after full time, take it out of the ground and into a nearby park to enjoy the sun.

It got me thinking ‘God, I love the Championship’ and if anything, it set the tone for a great season.

This was one of several joyful away days, and the next stop on my magic carpet ride through the second division was at Birmingham.

A Friday night, the last match before the oddity of a mid-season World Cup break and an occasion on which we needed to bounce back from a disappointing home defeat to Cardiff all came together perfectly.

Ellis Simms was back and fully fit after his early season injury, and for a full twenty minutes before kickoff, the ‘Ellis Simms on my mind’ chant was breathlessly belted out. Plenty had been said about Birmingham being decent at home, but nobody told Simms and Amad, who tore the Bluenoses to shreds.

A thoroughly deserved win and a cheerful walk back to Birmingham New Street station for me.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Boxing Day was a chance for me to get to just my second home game of the season (the first being Burnley- no need to dwell on that one) and a chance to see Stewart and Simms together for the last time.

My dad’s season ticket is near the South West corner, and it’s rare there’s a seat nearby but fortunately, I was able to squeeze in behind him.

In a semi-drunken state, I celebrated the last minute winner from Simms (which seemed to take a lifetime to cross the line) but it was worth the wait. Pandemonium, and an atmosphere at the Stadium of Light that I’d not heard since the Sheffield Wednesday match in the League One playoffs seven months earlier.

Taking over 6,000 down to Premier League Fulham and coming so close to knocking them out of the FA Cup was a great insight into where we were as a club at that point. However, falling over seats while celebrating Chris Rigg’s goal only for it to be ruled out for offside wasn’t entirely worth it.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I’ve had so much fun following Sunderland in the games I’ve managed to get to this season, and watching a group of players who want to play for the shirt, led by a head coach who gets the club and the area has been refreshing.

The news this week of Tony Mowbray staying put, coupled with the strong suggestions that Jobe Bellingham will be a Sunderland player next season has polished off any playoff hangover I was suffering from.

We can now look ahead to what will be an exciting summer, and an interesting new campaign.


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