Opposition in focus: Double drop, double Wembley pain and booed off on the opening day
PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 August 2019
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Sunderland boss Jack Ross faced strong criticism from a vocal element of Black Cats fans after last weekend’s opening day draw at home to Oxford United. STUART WATSON takes a look at tomorrow’s visitors to Portman Road.
The double drop
Four successive Premier League relegation scraps, followed by back-to-back relegations into League One. The Black Cats' dire Championship campaign was captured, warts and all, for Netflix documentary 'Sunderland 'Til I Die'.
Life in League One
After dropping into the third-tier, Sunderland appointed Jack Ross from Scottish club St Mirren. The 43-year-old had been interviewed by Ipswich too.
They certainly kicked the losing habit - the first league loss didn't come until the middle of September, the second not until just before Christmas - with an eight-game winning streak in October/November.
Star striker Josh Maja was sold to Bordeaux in January having scored 16 goals. They splashed out £4m to sign Will Grigg from Wigan as a replacement.
The Wearside club, playing regularly in front of 32,000 crowds at The Stadium of Light, made it all the way to Wembley in the Checkatrade Trophy before losing to Portsmouth on penalties.
Automatic promotion looked on the cards until some late nerves kicked in. In the final four games they drew with Peterborough and Portsmouth, before losing at Fleetwood and Southend to finish fifth.
Revenge was gained on Portsmouth in the play-off semi-finals - a 1-0 home win followed up by a goalless away draw - but there was to be a second dose of Wembley heartache as Charlton snatched a last-gasp winner to scire their place back in the Championship.
Some significant exits as the club continues to cut the wage bill.
Homegrown hero and captain George Honeyman was sold to Hull for a six-figure sum, the long-serving Lee Cattermole was released, while experienced Costa Rican international Bryan Oviedo joined moved to FC Copenhagen on a free transfer.
Reece James moved to league rivals Doncaster for an undisclosed fee to leave the squad sort of left-backs.
Four of the five players signed have been free transfers or loans.
Keeper Lee Burge and centre-back Jordan Willis both arrived on Bosman free transfers from Coventry, right-back Conor McLaughlin (Millwall, free) is a 35-cap Northern Ireland international, while Walsall captain George Dobson was signed for a fee reported to be in the region of £100k.
Striker Marc McNulty arrived from Reading on loan following a red-hot spell at Hibernian.
Sunderland recorded a league record 19 draws last season and they started this campaign with another one - booed off after a 1-1 stalemate against Oxford United in front of a crowd of 33,498 at The Stadium of Light.
Lynden Gooch's second-half penalty cancelled out Tariqe Fosu's early opener for the visitors.
There were five full league debuts - four of them new signings, plus 20-year-old attacking midfielder Elliott Embleton following his return from a loan spell at League Two club Grimsby.
Tom Flanagan was the only outfield survivor from the team that started May's Play-Off Final against Charlton
Ross has worked on a new-look 3-5-2 system in pre-season.
It's use last weekend drew strong criticism from frustrated fans, with claims that there were too many square pegs in round holes and too many defence-minded players on the pitch.
Creative quartet Aiden McGeady, Chris Maguire, Luke O'Nien and Duncan Watmore all started on the bench, as did club captain Grant Leadbitter.
Max Power, Charlie Wyke and Ethan Robson all remain sidelined, while Watmore has picked up a knock to join them in the treatment room. McGeady is 'more or less up to speed now', according to Ross.
Ross on criticism: "I understand the expectations of this club, but the reality and what we have in the group is different to the perception.
"The margins in which we fell short last season were small. We feel we have attributes we didn't have last season in terms of more pace and mobility."
Ross on Ipswich: "We knew this would be a difficult fixture, regardless of when it would fall. I think any club in this league will view them as a big club and will recognise it when they go to Portman Road.
"But for us, in order to be where we want to be this season, we have to go and look to get the win."
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