Following Sunderland AFC’s cruel defeat to Charlton in the dying seconds of the 2019 League One Playoff Final, a familiar concoction of emotion descended on every Black Cats fan. Yet another initially promising season had ultimately resulted in bitter, cruel disappointment, however with promises of new investment and aggressive player recruitment came a general consensus that better times were on the horizon in Wearside.
Fast forward to early July, more than a full month following Sunderland’s final defeat, and the lack of movement has become a concern to a large majority of the fanbase- myself included.
In the recent weeks, much of the animosity deriving from this fanbase has been directed at the ownership. Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, who acquired the club following the long awaited close of the Ellis Short era, have endured endless questioning regarding the shortcomings of the club in the 2018/19 season. This ultimately culminated in Donald, who had been an active figure on Twitter throughout the previous season, deleting his social media accounts- supposedly as a result of the abuse hurled at the figure from a certain toxic minority of Wearside fans. One would hope that this is not the prelude to a similar absent style of ownership as displayed by Short; nevertheless, as the season opener against Oxford United draws ever closer, more pressing issues are at hand.
Sunderland AFC’s only forays into the transfer market as of this moment have been the signings of full-back Conor McLaughlin and former Coventry stopper Lee Burge. These mark two unexciting but necessary signings, with McLaughlin providing valuable League One playing experience and replacing the released Adam Matthews and Burge most likely acting as backup goalkeeper in the wake of Robbin Ruiter’s departure. This nevertheless leaves several areas of weakness which Sunderland desperately need to address. The arrival of McLaughlin provides valuable wing-back depth, however neglects the even more pressing need for quality in the centre of the line- our centre halves were marked liabilities at points during the past season. Furthermore, despite boasting a number of impressive striking options, the Black Cats suffered from a chronic scoring issue in the second half of the season, rarely increasing the tally beyond one goal per game. The introduction of a (finally) fully fit Will Grigg may alleviate this issue, yet the addition of a prolific attacker is still imperative- and has been a consistent need since the departure of Josh Maja in January 2019.
More frustration with the club arose due to the tirades of possible transfer targets who, for one reason or another, opted to move elsewhere rather than Wearside. Early centre-back targets Curtis Nelson and George Edmundsson chose Cardiff City and Rangers respectively, leaving the club dangerously low in options for patching up a somewhat dysfunctional back line. Similar instances occurred in relation to attackers, with Sunderland losing out on both Freddie Ladapo and Lawrence Shankland- the latter choosing to remain in Scotland with Dundee United. Speculation suggested that a proposed takeover by American investor Mark Campbell resulted in stalling transfer activity. This ultimately came to nothing, however, leaving the club with nothing but failed ambitions and persistent holes in the squad.
As of now, everything seems eerily quiet on Wearside. Some may covet this position of uneventfulness, such as our self-destructing monochrome neighbours, however as our second successive League One season approaches, some drastic moves are still needed. As reiterated in my previous article, automatic promotion is the only acceptable outcome from this coming season. Any other result must be truly treated as a failure.