Sunderland AFC

Key player: Chris Maguire

Fan favourite Chris Maguire looks set to be Sunderland’s key player once again for the 2020-21 season after his 10 goals and twelve assists last time around. The wide man was instrumental on the right of an attacking three and was often the man that Sunderland looked to for a moment of inspiration along with attacking midfielder Lynden Gooch. Maguire was able to follow on from his seven goals and five assists in the previous season in which he suffered an injury which kept him out for a large part of the campaign before coming back in towards the end of the season and scoring a winning goal to take Sunderland to the play-off final.

Fast forward to this season and Maguire looks to be instrumental once again in Sunderland’s attacking prospects, especially after the freezing out of Aiden McGeady.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2020/21

Manager: Phil Parkinson

The experienced manager is most notable for his work at Bradford City, where he won promotion for the Bantams from League Two in 2012, and had a remarkable run in the EFL Cup which saw Bradford make it all the way to the final as a League 2 side before losing out to Swansea City at Wembley. They also beat the likes of Arsenal on the way there. In addition, Bradford produced heroics in the FA Cup by beating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge before strong finishes in League One.

He left Bradford at the start of 2015-16 to join recently relegated Bolton Wanderers and achieved promotion to the second tier in his first season. In the second tier Parkinson battled financial difficulties to keep Bolton up for two seasons running before leaving the club in August 2019 as Bolton entered administration. 

He took over at Sunderland last season after the departure of Jack Ross after some poor results, but he wasn’t quite able to provide the inspiration needed to give Sunderland promotion, instead finishing just outside the play-offs. He does look a good bet to get Sunderland competing higher up the table than Ross, however. 

Danger man: Will Grigg

Grigg initially signed for Sunderland in the January transfer window in 2018-19 as the replacement striker that Sunderland needed after the departure of Josh Maja to Bordeaux. For anyone unfamiliar with a) how Sunderland got into the financial mess that caused their League One spell and b) how to not run a football club, we recommend you watch the negotiations leading up to Grigg’s signing on the Netflix documentary Sunderland ’til I Die. 

Unfortunately for Sunderland, Grigg has been unable to re-capture his form shown in League 1 for both Wigan and Milton Keynes. He had previously scored 20, 25 and 19 goals (all as the club’s top scorer) in three promotion seasons for the two clubs, yet he has been unable to do the same for Sunderland, mostly because both Ross and Parkinson chose to whack long-balls up to him and expect some sort of 40-yard over-head kick I presume.

However he’s looked sharp in pre-season, and had two goals ruled out in the League Cup tie against Hull. If he’s able to re-capture form, Sunderland have a man who is capable of firing them to a much needed promotion.

Last season: 8th in League One

Sunderland are one of the teams that were left frustrated at the EFL verdict on points-per-game as they narrowly missed out on a chance to play in the play-offs for the second year in a row. After a wretched start to the season under Ross and then Parkinson, the fans continued to lose patience with the style of football played by both managers. Sunderland looked to be falling way short of any chance, and in fact had their lowest league position in over 140 years before a win at Doncaster on 29th of December. This bought a run of just 3 losses in 14 league games at the end of a curtailed season which looked like a genuine chance of automatic promotion had the season continued.

Key departure: John McLaughlin

For two seasons McLaughlin was a mainstay in Sunderland’s goal, and was undeniably a Championship level ‘keeper before he even arrived. After his transfer from Hearts, at the expiry of his contract, he would go on to produce 13 clean sheets in his first season and then 11 in his last campaign. Such was the form of McLaughlin that he earned his first call up to the national team for Scotland in 2018 and has so far made two appearances. This caught the eye of Rangers who he joined at the end of his contract with the Black Cats, and although his position has recently been bolstered by the arrival of former Argyle keeper Remi Matthews, it remains to be seen whether he, or Lee Burge, can have the same impact as McLaughlin.

Target: Play-offs

Although Sunderland fans still aren’t entirely convinced by Parkinson, I feel that they will have enough to go one better this season, however it doesn’t seem like they have strengthened enough yet for a significant improvement to reach the automatic promotion spots.

Opposition view

(provided by Sunderland fansite Roker Report)

Like fans of most clubs, there seems to be growing optimism for Sunderland’s chances this season as it becomes closer and closer to this season’s opening game against Bristol Rovers. Our off season has been chaotic with more things happening off the pitch more so than on it. Stewart Donald has resigned as chairman and is said to be trying to sell the club. Unfortunately, due to the many half truth’s that have come out of his mouth, it is impossible to really know if we are close to a sale or not. Add William Storey into the mix, the owner of Rich Energy who has tweeted consistently about his efforts to buy the club and how his offer is the best out there. It is clear that Storey is nowhere near buying the club although this has not restricted his tweeting.

When it comes to matters on the pitch, I think you would find most Sunderland fans are reasonably happy with the business we have done in the off season. Although losing our number one goalkeeper John McLoughlan to Rangers and our young star Bali Mumba, to Norwich, Phil Parkinson has done some smart business. The return of Bailey Wright permanently will be key to our success if he stays fit. Wright is a level above League One but only here because of persistent injury issues. It was not a coincidence that Sunderland’s strong post Christmas form began to dip when Wright got injured.

Along with the signing of Aiden O’Brien from Milwall, a Republic of Ireland international, we are somewhat hopeful that Will Grigg can hit the ground running to get us the goals that will finally end our spell in League One. The signing of Danny Graham, although getting on a bit, could be another shrewed piece of business.

I can never say anything with confidence when it comes to Sunderland but if we get off to a good start this season, I expect us to be in the mix for the play off’s and pushing for an automatic position.


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League One Season Preview 2020/21