Sunderland legends have spoken of their heartache at seeing the Black Cats slip into the third tier of English football for just the second time in the club’s history.
Chris Coleman’s men will be playing in League One come August after they went down 2-1 to fellow strugglers Burton Albion at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
It means that the Wearsiders have been relegated in successive seasons after finishing bottom of the Premier League in the 2016/17 season.
It will be the first time in more than 30 years that Sunderland will be playing in the third tier of English football after they were relegated in the 1986/87 season.
Club legend Gary Bennett – who made more than 350 Sunderland appearances during the 1980s and 1990s – has described back-to-back relegations as ‘devastating’.
But the former skipper believes Sunderland will bounce back from their latest relegation.
“It is devastating,” Bennett told the Echo.
“This is the second time in the club’s history Sunderland will play in the third tier, I was part of the team which for the first time was relegated to that level.
“Football has moved on and I think it will be a lot harder to get out that division than when we played but Sunderland will come back.
“That is a fact, but the quicker they do it, the better it is.
“What you don’t want to be doing is lingering at that level and it takes you two or three seasons to get out of League One and back into the Championship.”
Bennett added: “The supporters have always been there, no matter what.
“They will always be there.”
Legendary goalscorer Marco Gabbiadini described the current situation as “shocking”, but added that fans should try to remain positive.
“Going from being in the Premier League for 10 years, for that to evaporate as quickly as it has is shocking,” said Gabbiadini, who was on Wearside from 1987 to 1991 after moving from York City.
“It makes it hard to take.
“But things change quickly in football and we have to try and be optimistic even though it seems hard.
“However, some of the problems do run quite deep and it would be a lot easier for Chris Coleman if he was starting with a blank sheet of paper, but he isn’t.
“He’s got the added problem of the transfer window closing before the season starts so he has to have the players he wants in before then.
“We should be looking at the best players from League One and League Two to come to Sunderland, as we should be able to afford them.
“And I think some people are scaremongering when they say it would take 15 years to get back, because it could be as little as three or four if we start to get things right.”