The 2019/20 season was meant to be a successful one at Sunderland. After the previous seasons’ disappointment where the Black Cats were defeated by a last-minute goal at Wembley in the Play-off final, Sunderland’s season promised to see the team get back into the Championship.
On Tuesday however, the EFL ended the League One season for all except for those currently occupying a playoff place. Sunderland, after four games without a win prior to the season being suspended, sat just outside of the playoffs, one point behind the team in sixth place. As harsh as it may seem, Sunderland will now play a third season in League One. However, had the season played out the way it was promised and expected, the Black Cats would currently be celebrating promotion.
Sunderland’s Season, Which Began With Promise, Ends With Future Uncertain
Promise Made That Sunderland’s Season Would be Successful
Following on from last seasons Wembley disappointment, It was assumed by many supporters that the club would now go all out to gain automatic promotion. The squad, although a good League One standard needed improving. Owner Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven gave their rallying call after admitting mistakes may have been made.
“I’ve made mistakes,” Donald said. “I am sure Jack [Ross] will turn around and say he has made mistakes, I am sure the players will.
“The question is, have we made too many? Are we making the same ones continually? Do we learn from where we are going wrong? Are we realistic about really where we were?
“We’ve got to dissect all of that and say what are we going to do to make sure we get or aim for 100 points next year? Because we know that 100 points is going to get us up and we’ve got to be as sure damn that we can be that we’re going to get 100 points.”
He added: “There’s no point trying to squeak 90 points again because you’re running a risk of a bounce of a ball or a couple of injured players derailing you.”
With 100 points the aim, supporters had high hopes for the season ahead. One issue that was at the back of minds was that the club could be changing hands. Would the current owners be allowing new additions to the squad to be brought in?
For several weeks it appeared that businessman Mark Campbell could become the new owner. With this being the case, Jack Ross was unable to begin recruiting for the new season. When takeover talks ended with Stewart Donald still in charge, Jack Ross could begin to prepare for the season.
However, the players he would have liked would now be out of reach due to the cash injection from the takeover being no longer available. Ross would, therefore, need to wheel and deal with the likes of Lee Cattermole allowed to leave to free up wages.
Ross led the Black Cats to 85 points the previous season. With Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven looking at 100 points, Ross without real investment was tasked with giving his bosses a much better season.
Jack Ross Replaced by Phil Parkinson
A solid start to the season saw Sunderland around the play-off places, although performances were not showing signs that a 100 point season was forthcoming. A poor display at Bolton Wanderers, a team regularly beaten by several goals, saw Ross’s team salvage a point with a last-minute penalty. Soon after, another poor display saw the team defeated 2-0 at Lincoln City. Ross was on his way out.
Former Bolton and Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson was appointed. Jack Ross was inexperienced in League One and England; however, in Parkinson, they now had an experienced manager at this level, a manager who had gained promotion from the division that Sunderland were desperate to get out of. His brief was simple, gain promotion.
Inconsistent Form Cost Club
Parkinson saw his new team demolish Tranmere Rovers 5-0 in his first home game. Those thinking an automatic promotion place was now a certainty, would be disappointed. Only one more victory came in the next 12 games, including being knocked out of the three cup competitions they were involved in.
Parkinson turned the tide after the festive period. From Boxing Day until the end of February, Sunderland suffered just one defeat. Promotion was once again a possibility but two defeats in three games saw Parkinson’s men drop out of the play-off places.
At this point in Sunderland’s season, they were two places and one point outside of the play-off places. Following the defeat at Bristol Rovers on March 10th, football was suspended.
EFL End Sunderland’s Season
On Tuesday, June 9th, after several weeks of discussions, the Football League announced that Sunderland’s season and the League One campaign would end apart from the play-offs. It meant Sunderland would play a third successive season in League One. Not too long ago this would seem unbelievable.
The Black Cats were one of only four clubs who were in favour of playing the season to an end. With this being the case, Sunderland, like others would miss out on the chance to play their way into a promotion or play-off place.
Owner Stewart Donald is still keen to sell the club with several parties reportedly interested. The EFL’s decision to end the season meaning another season in League One for the club could have a knock-on effect as far as new investment is concerned.
Several key players are coming to the end of their contracts, these will need to renegotiated sooner rather than later if the club are to keep some of their better players. An area where the club appears to have struggled in the past is in the recruitment/scouting area. The club need to improve their scouting network if they are to attract better players. Several players brought in for a significant amount of money for League One have failed to deliver. Will Grigg, being a prime example of this.
Phil Parkinson knows this level of football well; however, he may have to use some of the clubs’ talented youngsters, at least in the short term.
Is the Club Financially Stable?
With all this in regards to contracts and squad improvements etc being said, no one apart from those within the club, know the financial state of the club. Income from home games, merchandise, season ticket renewals, advertising, amongst others will have hit finances hard. As will the refunds to be given to season ticket holders from missing the last three games of the season. Fans who have also paid for season tickets for the next campaign can also request a refund. The club took the option to furlough players and staff during lockdown to ease the pressure.
The coming weeks may give fans a better idea at what kind of state the club is actually in. Can the club currently afford to begin negotiating new contracts? Can Phil Parkinson even think about improving his squad ahead of a new season, whenever that maybe? At present the future of players at the club and even the future of the club as we know it is uncertain.
Sunderland are a huge club and will remain so. However, the club need to make change both on and off the field. If not, there is a great danger that the Stadium of Light could be playing host to lower league football for longer than anyone would want them to be.