Boro at home
Yes, I know, it’s not a derby...
But... BUT!... I do still like playing them. It’s not a derby but there’s certainly more of an edge about this game when it comes to how it stacks up against other matches against Championship opposition, and it’s always nice when we win... which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
Boro hate us, and they’ll still be reeling from being stuffed 2-0 at the SoL last season, so I’m pretty excited about the prospect of playing them again - especially since I think both clubs will be challenging right up at the top end of the league table.
Michael Carrick is a good manager, and Boro always have a healthy budget that allows them to compete, so I expect that a win against the smoggies will be a scalp worth taking this season.
Dirty Leeds are back in the Championship after a few years away, and with it comes one of my favourite away days - the short trip down the A1 to Elland Road to take on a side we have plenty of history with from over the years.
Elland Road is an old-school, traditional footy ground where the stands are cramped and the atmosphere reverberates around the stands due to the congested nature of the place and the low roof over the ‘terraces’.
We almost found ourselves playing against them in the cup last season and it would have been apt to have faced them fifty years after that famous Wembley win for Sunderland in 1973, but it wasn’t to be. Still, we get two bites at the cherry this season and like Boro, I expect them to be up there with us and in the mix for promotion given that their squad is already ‘Championship ready’, and because of the high expectations that comes with being Leeds United, a big club in the second tier.
I’m hoping that we get this one early doors, perhaps in August while the sun is still shining.
Sheffield Wednesday away
Another big name returning to the Championship this season is League One Play-Off winners Sheffield Wednesday.
Whilst they’re a bit of a clown show off the pitch, they’re still a big club and Hillsborough is another great old-school ground with plenty of history - it’s one of the stand-out away days of the season given what we’ve achieved there recently, and the fact it only takes about two hours to get there from the north east.
Our last outing at Hillsborough was in the Play-Off Semi Final in 2022 when Patrick Roberts scored a late goal to send Sunderland to Wembley to take on Wycombe, but prior to that they stuffed us in the league - proving that it’s a notoriously difficult place to play football.
This has the feeling of being a big game under the floodlights around Christmas time.
Leicester at home
When I think back to being a kid, my favourite memories of following the Lads were under Reidy with that fantastic team which swept through the First Division, but the big disappointment of that era was failing to beat Leicester over two legs in the League Cup. Tony Cottee broke my heart with his two goals that night at the Stadium of Light, and because the return leg at Filbert Street was a draw it was that first game on Wearside that ultimately decided our fate.
I’m still not over it, and a home game against the 2016 Premier League Champions looks set to be a tasty affair, particularly since we’ve hardly played each other - in fact, we’ve faced them only four times at the Stadium of Light in the past 17 years.
I expect Leicester to be the big hitters in the division this season with their squad and budget, and given that I expect us to be challenging for the top two, this could end up being a really big game for us as the story of the season pans out.
Stoke at home
Alex Neil returning to Sunderland to absolutely batter us was undoubtedly the worst moment of last season, and we really need to get one back over on him at the earliest opportunity.
This time... just don’t let the occasion get to us.
It seems strange to say I’m looking forward to this one, but I am - like with the Boro game, it’s one of the ones where there’s a little bit of needle involved, and isn’t that why we love football, to be involved in big games and to get one over on people and clubs we don’t like?
I don’t mind Stoke that much, but I cannot stand their manager.