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Sunderland fans fear an extended Premier League absence

Sunday 18th June 2017
With Derek McInnes opting to stay at Aberdeen rather than accept the vacant managerial post at Sunderland, there is growing unease among Wearside football supporters that their team may not be fully prepared for the arduous Championship campaign; beginning early August.
Following David Moyes' resignation as manager, after the Black Cats finished bottom of the Premier League last month, there had been some hope among Sunderland supporters that club officials would move quickly to appoint a successor. Such a development would allow time to build a team capable of repeating the performance of local rivals Newcastle in clinching a rapid promotion back to the top-flight. Rafael Benitez had already been installed into the Magpies hot seat and was actively involved in the transfer window during the summer of 2016, but that expectation on Tyneside contrasts with the general despair becoming evident regarding Sunderland's prospects for the coming season.

During May 2016, the mood among fans was far different with Sunderland beating Everton 3-0 in a midweek match at the Stadium of Light - to guarantee their Premier League status for another season and officially confirming Newcastle's relegation to the Championship. Another great escape had been performed by the Black Cats with Sam Allardyce expected to continue in his role as manager and lead the team further up the league table in subsequent campaigns.

Unfortunately for Sunderland, England were beaten 2-1 by Iceland in the Euro 2016 tournament with manager Roy Hodgson announcing his resignation immediately afterwards. On July 22nd that year, Allardyce ended a few weeks of uncertainty by agreeing to be Hodgson's replacement, but that decision created a problem for the Wearside team with the new Premier League just a few weeks ahead, and precious little time available for a new manager to recruit players and impose his ideas upon the players.

Several players were hurriedly purchased, but an early declaration by Moyes that Sunderland were set for a relegation struggle was not well received by many fans. A very poor campaign ensued with the Black Cats failing to win a home game this year and netting in just six Premier League matches during 2016 with leading striker Jermaine Defoe expected to depart for Bournemouth.

Despite selling star performer and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to Everton for at least £25 million, club owner Ellis Short has asserted that financial problems remain at the club with overall debt still amounting to over £100 million. With available funds likely to be scarce for player recruitment this summer, it came as no surprise to some Sunderland fans that Derek McInnes refused to leave Aberdeen for Wearside, and club officials have suspended the search for a new boss while Short seeks further investment or a buyer for the club.

Speaking to veteran Sunderland supporters in a South Tyneside pub on Friday evening, in which there is usually a 50:50 mix of Black Cat and Magpie fans, there were real fears of a repeat of last summer when the team lacked preparation for the Premier League season. It was also unclear why the club had been unable to persuade Gary Monk to become their manager, rather than accept a similar role at Middlesbrough where the Riverside Stadium attendances are usually significantly smaller than at the Stadium of Light. The stability of Steve Gibson as the owner of the Teesside Club may have been a deciding factor, but what is also apparent among those Friday evening fans is that the only current managerial vacancy in the Championship exists at Sunderland with no immediate sign of the situation being resolved.

It has now been announced that Paul Bracewell has left his role as assistant manager at the club, with former Middlesbrough player and Scottish international Robbie Stockdale potentially assuming responsibility for the beginning of pre-season training on June 29th, as he remains first-team coach at Sunderland.

Eventually, the management issue will be resolved at Sunderland, but some fans have already accepted that winning promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt is unlikely, especially with the need for first-team squad overhaul postponed indefinitely.
John Welsh
I am a freelance sports writer specialising in football covering Premier League, EFL and English non-leagues plus top leagues in France, Germany and Italy. I have written for Inside Futbol, Football Weekends plus football previews for Hong Kong Jockey Club, and I’m also the author of book First Touch, a novel covering the exploitation of young African footballers and their experiences in Europe.

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