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How Sunderland can learn from Newcastle United’s successful EFL Championship campaign

George Hodgson



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.

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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.


Jaap Stam dismissal could be too little too late for Reading

Jaap Stam was dismissed by the Royals earlier this week.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Reading were one penalty shootout away from the Premier League at the end of last season and it was hoped that they would go one step better to clinch promotion during this campaign.

However, it has been a disastrous season for the Royals and they currently find themselves three points above the relegation zone with eight matches to go.

Jaap Stam had retained faith from the board for his overachievement during his first year as manager, but with their position looking more and more precarious, it became untenable.

The club announced his dismissal on Wednesday in an online statement that featured the following:

“Jaap has not wavered in the time, effort and sheer determination he has put in to try to steer the team away from the position we find ourselves in. However, after careful consideration, the decision has been made that a change is now necessary.”

The Dutchman can’t complain that he wasn’t given a fair chance.

There are only eight matches remaining in the season and it has become obvious that he was no longer the right man for the job.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

It was inconceivable at the start of the campaign that Reading would be battling relegation. They were a team with promotion ambitions, but 2018 has been terrible for them.

The Royals have won only one Championship match during this calendar year.

A number of draws have kept the club stuttering along, but now they are only three points above the bottom three, a decision had to be made.

Stam will look back at his time with Reading as a positive one.

He managed to surprise a lot of pundits by taking them to third position in his first season and was unlucky not to be promoted, but there are a lot of people still scratching their head at how the Royals managed to finish as high as they did.

The likes of Fulham, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday were all seen as better teams, but something clicked for Reading and it is difficult to explain what.

Mark Taylor made an observation on Twitter using expected goals. Stam’s team massively overachieved based on that metric, which projected them as finishing 19th.

This season, the model projects them in 17th. In short, this decline in league position was predictable.

Although there are problems with expected goals, it does provide a good explanation for Reading’s decline this season.

Their results have simply returned to the mean and they are now getting the points to match their performance level.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It isn’t that they have got worse under Stam’s management, but rather that last season was the outlier.

If Reading, as a club, want to be competing for promotion, Stam wasn’t the right manager to deliver that. The underlying numbers throughout his tenure highlight that.

His side scored 112 goals and conceded 121 in the Championship during the Dutchman’s time as manager.

That isn’t a record that suggests he is good enough to lead the club back to the Premier League.

The time for dissecting Stam’s tenure and his failures isn’t now. Reading must concentrate on making the right appointment to secure their place in the Championship.

It would be a huge blow if they were to fall to the third tier for the first time since the 2001/2 season.

With only eight matches left, there is little room for error for any incoming manager. The club must hope that this decision wasn’t too little too late.

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One-time Leeds United talent Chris Dawson joins Scarborough Athletic

The midfielder has struggled with injuries since leaving Leeds United.



Photo: Getty Images

Leeds United fans probably don’t bother themselves with the news at non-league Scarborough Athletic, but one development at the club from yesterday might have caught the eye.

Chris Dawson signed for the club earlier this week, along with former Sheffield United youngster Jorome Slew.

Speaking to the Scarborough News about the move, Dawson explained he was just happy to be playing football again:

“There were quite a few clubs (interested). But I know the manager here and I know one of the lads here and I am not really bothered about what level I play at.

“I just want to be playing football again and want consistent game time.”

(Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

Leeds United fans will, of course, remember Dawson well.

The Welsh under-21 international was a highly rated youngster at Thorp Arch when he signed his professional contract in 2012.

He made his original Leeds breakthrough to the first team in 2013, starting in a 2-1 loss against Derby County in April of the same year.

Nonetheless, he struggled with a shoulder injury and other ailments after that period.

He next played for Leeds in November 2014 and after featuring just two more times for the club, he was released in January 2016.

Two days later Dawson headed to Rotherham United, then managed by his former Leeds academy boss Neil Redfearn.

Dawson, however, has had an unlucky career. By the time he had returned to full fitness, Redfearn had been sacked and he never went on to feature for the Millers.

After joining former Leeds coach Ian Burchnall for a loan spell at Norwegian side Viking FK he was released by Rotherham in May of last year.

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Since then it has been a tough ride for Dawson.

A behind-closed-doors friendly for Oldham Athletic has been his only 90 minutes in the last year, after suffering a torn ACL.

The knee injury has kept him out of action but now, fully fit, he is hoping to help the Seadogs in their bid for promotion from the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Leeds United fans were always excited about Dawson’s ability. Often praised by his coaches and fans for his performances with the under-23s he looked a first-team prospect.

Technically gifted and dangerous around the box the Welsh talent has all the necessary skills to be a star. The one thing Dawson has not been gifted with is luck.

Hopefully, he can find success with Scarborough. Five years after making his Leeds debut, Dawson is embarking on the latest stage of his career.

No Leeds United fan would begrudge him any future success.

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Leo Bonatini wants to stay and Wolves should keep him

The Brazilian has not scored in 18 games, but has earned a permanent Wolves switch.



Photo: Getty Images

Wolverhampton Wanderers have a decision to make in the summer regarding striker Leo Bonatini.

The Brazilian is on loan at Molineux from Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal until the end of the season.

According to Birmingham Live, that deal can be made permanent in the summer for a fee of around €5 million (£4.4 million).

Bonatini has made himself clear about his own future. The 23-year-old told ESPN Brasil, as quoted by the Birmingham Mail, that he wants to stay with Wolves:

“It’s something I still don’t know. I’m on loan here, really, until the end of this season from Al-Hilal. I don’t know what will happen.

“But I know what I want, I want to stay. Here’s a place that I was able to adapt very well to the game style, it’s a game style that I like a lot, the country is a very good country, where I adapted to be able to live.”

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

In December, this would have been an easy decision to make. The Brazilian had scored 12 goals in 22 games for the club as they romped to a Championship lead.

It was a level of form that had him in contention for the national team.

Since then, things have dropped off. Bonatini has not scored in 2018 and is now 18 games without a goal.

The January loan signing of Benik Afobe has seen him lose his place and the Molineux outfit will no longer be sure that the 23-year-old should be snapped up in the summer.

But, surely Wolves should still push forward with signing the Brazilian striker?

His form recently has been a concern. However, Wolves know what he is capable of when he is firing.

Those 12 goals in 22 games at the start of the season were no fluke and the bullish frontman has plenty of talent.

Furthermore, Wolves can not argue with the price-tag.

For a player of Bonatini’s age and talent, £4.4 million is an absolute bargain when compared to some of the prices in the Championship in recent seasons.

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Wolves will need different options up front if they are promoted and new faces will be expected at Molineux.

But Bonatini will have played a pivotal role in taking the club to the top-flight. Having him on the books will be a major plus in the Premier League.

Whilst his form has dipped in recent times, £4.4 million for a 12-goal striker, at just 23 years of age, is a deal that Wolves must snap up.

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