The playoffs are done and dusted and the relegation spots from the Premier League have been filled, meaning the line up for next season’s Championship is all sorted.
We’ve said goodbye to Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton, who’ve been promoted, as well as Blackpool, Reading and Wigan, who’ve dropped into League One. In their place, we’ll be up against Leicester, Leeds United and Southampton, as well as Ipswich, Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday.
It means that the second tier now has more than a hint of the golden ‘Coca Cola’ era, when the soft drinks company sponsored the EFL and when many of next season’s opponents also had a spot in the Championship.
This period, which encompassed the mid 2000s, was one of success at this level for Sunderland. Two title wins in three years (with one fifteen point top flight season sandwiched between them) meant that we rarely lost in the league.
The 2023/2024 Championship will feature no fewer than sixteen teams who we crossed paths with back in 2006/2007.
Many of these clubs have experienced mixed fortunes since then, with several enduring multiple years at a lower level. On the other hand, you’ve also got Leicester City, who were playing Champions League football six years ago.
The last time we played Southampton in the Championship was when Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter both scored memorable goals in a 2-1 away win to move us to within a few points of promotion. Meanwhile, when we last visited Plymouth in the second tier, Dwight Yorke and Stern John led the line in a 2-0 win.
Almost every match of that season was iconic, or at least it felt iconic, looking back.
It goes without saying that the 2023/2024 Championship will be competitive. As you look at the full line up, you’d expect at least half the teams to fancy their chances of promotion, or at least of being in a promotion race.
That’s what we want to see: teams throughout the division going hell for leather for forty six games. It’s how the Championship earned its title of one of the most exciting leagues in Europe, and it’s the only way it’ll keep it.
Recently, elements of negativity have crept in on social media as fans look ahead to the new season, and there seems to be early worries that we aren’t good enough to compete with the teams who’ll be in and around the promotion picture.
Admittedly, the league wasn’t at its strongest last year, but we still got the better of some very good teams. We’re in a very strong position heading into the transfer window, and we’ve demonstrated to any promising youth players that we’re a club worth joining if you want to experience a sustained level of football.
This throwback to the golden era of the ‘Coca Cola Championship’ is great, as it’ll be pitting some big clubs against each other for the first time in years. It’s also one to relish for Sunderland, as a chance to progress along the path to where we ultimately want to be as a club.
There’s no use in worrying about how strong our opponents may or may not be. We’ve got to keep ourselves in check and make sure we’re in a stronger position at the start of the new campaign than we were at the end of the last.