Sunderland half-season review: With 23 games played of a 46-game season, Sunderland’s return to the Championship has been eventful. Some excellent performances and results have been coupled with frustration and a change in head coach. The Black Cats have shown at times that they have nothing to fear in England’s second tier and should the next 23 games produce similar results, Sunderland will at least finish in a comfortable mid-table position. For a team promoted from League One, this will be seen as a success.
Sunderland Half-Season Review
The Black Cats bolstered their squad with 10 new players. Jack Clarke and Leon Dajaku signed permanently following loan spells from the previous season.
Goalkeeper Alex Bass arrived from Portsmouth. Defenders Daniel Ballard and Aji Alese were signed on permanent deals from Arsenal and West Ham United. Midfielders Abdoullah Ba and Edouard Michut signed from Le Havre and PSG, the latter on loan with the view to a permanent deal. Wingers Amad Diallo and Jewison Bennette plus striker Ellis Simms bolstered the attacking options of the then Sunderland head coach Alex Neil.
Will Grigg, Aiden McGeady, Lee Burge and Arbenit Xhemajli were given free transfers. Carl Winchester and Jack Diamond were loaned to Shrewsbury Town and Lincoln City respectively.
With several new signings arriving prior to the new season, fans were confident following their Wembley play-off victory that a season of at least consolidation was upcoming. However, despite pre-season being primarily about match fitness, Sunderland’s results were a mixed bag. Wins over Scottish pair Rangers and Dundee United were accompanied by defeats against Italian giants Roma, League Two side Bradford City and League One outfit Accrington Stanley. Pre Season ended with a 1-1 draw at fellow North East club Hartlepool United.
July/August – Alex Neil Leaves, Tony Mowbray Takes Charge
Alex Neil’s men started life back in the Championship well. By mid-August, Sunderland had recorded two wins, two draws and suffered a single league defeat; however, as is the norm at the Stadium of Light, shocking news is not far away.
Following the victory at Stoke City and just a day before Sunderland hosted Norwich City, Alex Neil dropped the bombshell that he was leaving to take over at Stoke. The following day, managerless Sunderland were defeated by the Canaries while Neil watched his new team from the stands at Blackburn Rovers.
Sunderland’s Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman said: “First and foremost, we want to thank Alex for his contribution to Sunderland AFC. The impact he made is clear and he played an integral role in our promotion last season. Despite signing revised terms earlier this month and receiving an offer to further improve his contract on Friday, Alex felt this was an opportunity that he wanted to pursue. We are extremely disappointed by his departure, but we ultimately respect his decision and we wish him well. The process to appoint a new Head Coach is underway and we will provide a further update to our supporters shortly.”
Fans would not have to wait long to find out who would be replacing Neil in the Black Cats dugout. Four days after the departure of Alex Neil, former Blackburn Rovers, Celtic and West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray was appointed as the club’s new head coach. His first game in charge was just 24 hours later. His new team won 3-0.
September – Star Striker Injured, Goal of the Season Contender
September brought a mixture of euphoria and frustration. In the warm-up to the game at Middlesbrough, star striker Ross Stewart was injured and would not play again until December. Fellow striker Ellis Simms was injured in the next game at Reading which left Tony Mowbray without a recognised striker for the foreseeable future.
September brought a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough, a 3-0 win at Reading and a 2-2 draw at Watford with new teenage signing Jewison Bennette scoring a dramatic late equaliser.
It was at Reading and following the departure of the injured Simms that Sunderland produced one of the best goals seen in the Championship.
You can view the goal below:
October – Just One Win in Seven Games
October brought a month where fans feared the Championship could be harder than previously expected. A victory at home to Wigan Athletic was sandwiched in between defeats at Swansea City, Blackburn Rovers and Burnley. Despite these three losses, Sunderland were not playing badly. A mixture of bad luck and teams with more strength in depth played a part; however, the results were concerning. The three other games this month brought two 0-0 home draws and a 1-1 at Luton Town.
November – Good Away Form Continues
Despite home form continuing to cause a headache to both Tony Mowbray and the fans, their away form continued to put points on the board. A 1-0 home defeat to Cardiff City came in the middle of two away victories.
A 2-0 win at struggling Huddersfield Town was followed up with a hard-fought victory at Birmingham City. Going into the break for the World Cup, Sunderland were proving that they could live with most teams in the league and when at their best they could emerge victorious.
December – Black Cats Head Into Christmas With Mixed Bag of Results
Sunderland’s inconsistent form and results continued following the break. In all three games leading up to the halfway point of the season, the Black Cats outperformed their opponents for large spells; however, they were unable to sustain their dominance resulting in a mixed bag of results.
A 3-0 win at home to Millwall was followed by a disappointing 2-1 home defeat by West Brom, a game in which the Black Cats dominated the first half but could not extend their one-goal advantage. At Hull City, despite having a man sent off, Sunderland took the lead through the returning Ross Stewart; however, they were unable to hold on to the lead and drew 1-1.
Heading into their 24th league game on Boxing Day at home to Blackburn Rovers with a crowd of over 40,000 expected, Sunderland lie in 13th place. 31 points have been won so far with the Black Cats just three points off a play-off position.
Sunderland Half-Season Review: Tony Mowbray on the Season So far
Speaking to safc.com, head coach Tony Mowbray gave his thoughts on the season so far. He said:
“I think we have to be reasonably satisfied,” Mowbray told safc.com.
“Most of the time I’ve been here we haven’t had strikers. Around mid-table is I think OK – I know that our supporters want to see us up at the top of the table, competing to get out of this division. The reality I think is that without our main man up top for a very, very long time, it’s not easy. We had to find a way.
“I have to give huge credit to the group that we’ve been working with, the likes of Pritch, Embleton and Amad who have filled in those forward areas, and the team for grasping that we couldn’t play with that target man.
“In general the group have equipped themselves to the league very, very well because it’s tough, and they’ve shown that they can compete against just about everybody.
“We’re on a journey, we can get lots better but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The full interview can be viewed below.
🎙️ We sat down with Tony Mowbray to discuss…
🤕 Injury news
📊 Season so far
🎄 Festive period
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) December 21, 2022
Sunderland Half-Season Review: Conclusion
Many promoted teams face a battle to avoid the drop. Sunderland, however, despite improvements needed and an early change in head coach, they have shown that they have nothing to fear in the Championship. Should they be able to strengthen in January, the Black Cats should be looking at the very least a comfortable mid-table finish.
Contracts for first-team players will also need to be finalised in the New Year should the club wish to continue to move forward. Star striker Ross Stewart has been the subject of much transfer speculation with his contract expiring next summer. However, the club do have the option to trigger a one-year extension. Playmaker Alex Pritchard, and defenders Dennis Cirkin and Danny Batth are the others who have endeared themselves to fans with their consistent performances and whose contracts also expire in the summer.
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