What have the first seven games taught us about Sunderland's League One rivals?

So we're barely a month into the new season and it's far too early to be looking at the league table just yet, right?

Friday, 14th September 2018, 12:02 pm
Updated Friday, 14th September 2018, 12:22 pm
Ivan Toney and Matt Godden celebrate Peterbrough's winning goal against Southend.

Maybe so, but the first seven games have given us a chance to learn about the thrills, difficulties and relentless nature of League One, as well as an opportunity to assess Sunderland's potential rivals.

Jack Ross' side have taken 15 points from their opening seven fixtures, which included dramatic victories over Charlton and AFC Wimbledon.

Sunderland have also recorded resounding victories over Scunthorpe and Gillingam, but there have also been signs the Black Cats won't have it all their own way in England's third tier.

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The last two home games are evidence of that, after Oxford and Fleetwood produced spirited performances at the Stadium of Light.

But which of the early-season pacesetters are there to stay? And who could still pose a threat during a long and arduous 46-game season?

Here's what we've learnt about Sunderland's rivals so far.

The fast starters

Peterborough lead the way after seven games after taking 19 points from a possible 21.

Steve Evans' side certainly don't lack firepower, and are unsurprisingly the division's highest scorers with 19 goals.

Jason Cummings and Matt Godden have six goals each, while the Posh have also signed former Newcastle striker Ivan Toney, whose first goal for the club was a dramatic winner in a 3-2 victory over Southend last Saturday.

Evans recruited several players from Scottish football and League Two in the summer, and according to Alan Swann from the Peterborough Telegraph, Posh 'will become stronger as the season wears on' when the new players have had time to gel.

That is a daunting prospect for the rest of the league.

Posh's opponents this Saturday are Kenny Jackett's Portsmouth, the team breathing down their necks in second place.

Pompey finished eighth in League One last season, five points off the play-offs, but it was their performances against the top six which let them down.

From their 12 matches against teams who finished in the play-offs last year, Jackett's side won two, drew two and lost eight.

Pompey are still yet to face a side genuinely fancied for promotion this campaign, so this weekend's game will put their promotion credentials to the test.

The Surprise packages

Tagged as one of the division's underdogs, no one quite knew what to expect from Fleetwood when Joey Barton took his first managerial job.

But the Cod Army are unbeaten since the opening day of the season and have snuck up to sixth in the table.

Before last weekend's clash at the Stadium of Light, Rosie Swarbrick, a reporter for the Fleetwood Weekly News and Blackpool Gazette, told us Barton has constructed a side 'littered with experience and young talent'.

She added: "Strong defensively and with firepower at their disposal most of the division would sell their right arm for, Barton has assembled a squad that many in this tier would envy."

Time will tell if the Cod Army can sustain their strong start, but, if Saturday's draw at the Stadium of Light is anything to go by, Barton's men are well equipped to challenge at the top.

The same questions will be asked of high-flying Walsall, who finished just two points above the drop zone last campaign.

But the Saddlers have raced out of the blocks this season and, like Sunderland, are unbeaten in League One with four wins and three draws.

So can Dean Keates' side sustain their strong start and challenge for promotion? Striker Tyler Roberts, on loan from West Brom, certainly thinks so.

"With the players we have got and the team spirit we have got, that should be the aim.," he said.

Mixed fortunes for relegated sides

Like Sunderland, both Barnsley and Burton had high hopes at the start of this campaign, following relegation to the third tier.

But while the Tykes, under new manager Daniel Stendel, have looked a potent force early on, Nigel Clough's Burton have struggled to adapt.

The Brewers, Sunderland's opponents tomorrow, have lost four of their opening seven fixtures, after allowing several of their more experienced players to leave in the summer.

Seven of the players who finished Saturday's 1-1 draw with Accrington Stanley were aged 23 or under, with Clough admitting afterwards his side suffered from a lack of experience.

Barnsley, meanwhile, look a far greater threat, after keeping a core group of players who were relegated last campaign.

The Tykes sit third in the table with 15 points and have the tightest defence in the division so far, along with Portsmouth, after conceding just four goals.

The chasing pack

Off the field, all is not well at Charlton, but, as we saw when the Addicks visited the Stadium of Light last month, Lee Bowyer's side certainly pack a punch.

The Londoners reached the play-offs last season and recruited well over the summer, assembling a pacey strike force of former Sunderland target Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant.

Bowyer's appointment on a permanent basis was followed by a 3-2 win over Wycombe last weekend, moving the Addicks to the cusp of the play-offs.

Another side who could be on the up following a difficult spell in recent years is Blackpool.

The Tangerines have climbed up to ninth after going five league games unbeaten and have recently been buoyed by the permanent appointment of manager Terry McPhillips, who was in charge on a temporary basis following Gary Bowyer’s shock resignation.

According to Blackpool Gazette reporter Matt Scrafton, McPhillips hasn't changed too much while bringing in some 'promising footballers' during the transfer window.

Sctafton adds: "The performances have been to a very high standard and not once have they been soundly beaten."