Last season served up a juxtaposition of emotions in Tyne and Wear: elation felt at St James Park, contrasting with despair at the Stadium of Light, as Newcastle were promoted, and Sunderland relegated.
The Black Cats proved to have used up their nine lives, as they were relegated in their tenth successive season in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Newcastle were very much under the microscope in the EFL Championship last season and, with Rafa Benitez spending the big bucks, promotion was always expected, and The Magpies made no mistake at the first time of asking.
Granted, Sunderland and Newcastle share one of – it not the most – fierce rivalries in the whole of British football, but it would be foolish for Sunderland to ignore the way their local rivals dealt with life in The Championship.
It is easy to say that most managers would be able to get promoted with the money Benitez had at his disposal, but look at Aston Villa – it is not as easy as throwing money at it.
The way Newcastle coped with the demands of the league, and the additions Benitez made to the already-strong squad, were pivotal in the club’s title-winning campaign.
The Magpies, considering the club’s size, were a big game for all the other clubs in the division. Without a doubt, they would have been one of the first clubs that fans checked to see when their team were facing. Sunderland will be playing under the same spotlight in the forthcoming season.
When you haven’t been in the second tier for so long, like Sunderland, it can be easy to criminally underestimate it. The club’s fans, staff and players are under no illusions that next season is going to be a walk in the park.
If anything, it will be the opposite. Dealing with the expectation and pressure week in week out won’t be easy. It took time for Newcastle to get going, but they were patient and, once they started the engine and set the gas, they never stepped on the brakes.
With £30 million in the bank after the departure of Young Player of the Year Jordan Pickford, Sunderland have the funds available to make next season everything they want it to be.
The Championship has seen numerous failed transfers and whoever it is that is in charge on Wearside next season should make zero-risk transfers. Just look at the success Newcastle achieve from having this very approach. Benitez brought in proven Championship talent and it won them the title and got them back to the Premier League.
Matt Ritchie was one of the key men behind Bournemouth’s 2014/15 promotion, Dwight Gayle had scored goals in the league before and Mohamed Diame scored the goal at Wembley to promote Hull City the previous season. The Championship is a giant pool of talent and it should not be ignored, even more so in Sunderland’s case this summer.
Jermaine Defoe was the key source of goals last season and Jordan Pickford was another shining light in a dark season. The latter has since has departed and Defoe’s exit is surely imminent, so whoever is in the hot seat has a real job on their hands to recruit well.
Although it was a ten-year stay in the top flight for Sunderland, the last few years they rode their luck, escaping by the narrowest of margins at times and it felt as though the inevitable was being delayed.
No-one wants to see success return to the Stadium of Light more than the passionate Black Cats faithful, to which football means so much. Watching their bitter rivals lift the trophy must have hurt for those connected to the club last term and, once the season starts, the battle to get hands on the 2017/18 title will be at the forefront of everyones’ aspirations.