Everything you need to know about Sunderland's first 11 League One opponents - from new signings to bookies' predictions

Sunderland have high expectations for the new campaign but have been handed a tricky start by the fixture list.

By Phil Smith
Thursday, 20 June, 2019, 11:15
Paul Lambert's Ipswich Town will provide a stern early-season test for Sunderland

The opening two months will see them face a number of opponents with serious designs on the upper reaches of the League One table.

We assess how they’re shaping up for the new season, both in the transfer market and off the field. 

 

Oxford United (H) August 3rd

 

Last season: 12th

 

Bookies predict: Upper mid-table

 

Manager: Karl Robinson

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Oxford arguably underachieved last season, given how impressive they were in both fixtures against the Black Cats. They possess plenty of individual talent, though they will miss Jordan Graham who has returned to parent club Wolves.

As it stands, their frontline looks underpowered and influential captain Curtis Nelson will be tough to replace when he leaves on a free this month.

Karl Robinson says he is close to making new additions and is thought to want to bring former Sunderland man Jerome Sinclair back on loan.

 

Ipswich Town (A) August 10th

 

Last season: 24th (Championship)

 

Bookies predict: 2nd

 

Manager: Paul Lambert

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Paul Lambert struggled to improve results last season but did win the affection of the support and so the club enter this season both with positivity and continuity.

Their squad is already beginning to take an impressive shape.

They have retained real experience and quality in Luke Chambers and Alan Judge, while young prospects like Andre Dozell could shine.

In former Gillingham goalkeeper Tomas Holy and Tranmere striker James Norwood, they have added some proven Football League talent.

Lambert’s record in this division is exceptional and they are serious contenders.

 

Portsmouth (H) August 17th

 

Last season: 4th

 

Bookies predict: Top two outsiders

 

Manager: Kenny Jackett

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Jackett’s team will always compete and there is no reason to think it will be any different this season.

Their additions so far are low-profile (James Bolton from Shrewsbury, academy prospects Harry Anderson and Gerard Storey from Portadown) but the Pompey boss thrives on picking up bargains.

There remains some significant concern in terms of how and whether they will be able to replace the exceptional Matt Clarke, who is Brighton-bound.

Jamal Lowe also seems likely to leave and will not be easy to replace, though the talented Gary Mackay-Steven is on the brink of joining from Aberdeen.

Securing a goal-scoring striker looks key if they are to improve from last year.

 

Rochdale (A) August 20th

 

Last season: 16th

 

Bookies predict: Relegation battle

 

Manager: Brian Barry-Murphy

 

How they’re shaping up

 

A significant improvement from last season’s effort seems unlikely at this stage.

Talented young midfielder Daniel Adshead has joined Norwich City, though his gametime was relatively limited last season anyway.

Their escape from relegation was a close-run thing last time out, though Brian Barry-Murphy did impress after taking over in April.

He moved them to a back three which made them much harder to beat generally.

 

AFC Wimbledon (H) August 24

 

Last season: 20th

 

Bookies predict: Relegation battle

 

Manager: Wally Downes

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Wally Downes pulled off a remarkable escape from the drop, edging out Plymouth to survive on goal difference.

However, many felt that upsurge in form was well overdue given their performances throughout the campaign.

Sunderland fans can certainly attest to that, given the way they struggled to secure a 2-1 win away early in the season.

Business has been quiet so far, though defensive stalwart Deji Oshilaja will be tough to replace.

They will also need to replace Aaron Ramsdale, who was exceptional in that impressive run after joining on loan from Bournemouth in the January window.

 

Peterborough United (A) August 31

 

Last season: 7th

 

Bookies predict: Play-offs

 

Manager: Darren Ferguson

 

How they’re shaping up

 

An early return to the scene of one of Sunderland’s most disappointing days last season.

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A late Max Power goal sent travelling fans into delirium and looked set to secure the initiative in the race for automatic promotion.

They were pegged back and never recovered.

Peterborough have been typically busy in the close season, once again bringing in a selection of young talent with high potential resale value.

Experienced centre-back Mark Beevers looks a canny addition from Bolton Wanderers while many will be interested to see how Mo Eisa fares.

Sunderland tried to sign him last summer but Bristol City swooped. His goal record at Cheltenham Town had been exceptional but he never had a real chance at Ashton Gate last season.

For all the transfer hype, talented attacker Marcus Maddison remains very much a Posh player and as it stands they look to have plenty of goals and attacking threat in the squad.

As ever, finding consistency with such a young squad will be the challenge.

 

Burton Albion (H) September 7th

 

Last season: 9th

 

Bookies predict: Play-off outsiders

 

Manager: Nigel Clough

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Sunderland took only one point from their two games against Burton last season, who looked a side full of pace, strength and quality.

Indeed, their exceptional record against sides at the top hinted at their potential and is one reason why plenty will see them as potential challengers this season.

Clough is a proven operator at this level and they will enjoy good continuity from their impressive end of season form.

Centre-back Kyle McFadzean will be a big miss as he joins Coventry City at the end of his contract, but experienced midfielder John-Joe O’Toole looks a very smart addition from Northampton Town.

Keeping hold of striker Liam Boyce would be a significant statement.

 

Accrington Stanley (A) September 14th

 

Last season: 14th

 

Bookies predict: Relegation

 

Manager: John Coleman

 

How they’re shaping up

 

The bookies are predicting a difficult task in replicating last season’s heroics.

There has been little transfer business so far, with young midfielder Joe Pritchard the only addition.

Key to their chances will be how they are able to replace last season’s loan talent.

Daniel Barlaser (Newcastle United) and Paul Smyth (QPR) were both impressive and key players who will not be easy to replace.

 

Rotherham United (H) September 17th

 

Last season: 22nd (Championship)

 

Bookies predict: Top two outsiders

 

Manager: Paul Warne

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Keeping hold of the immensely popular Warne is a big boost and means they are almost certain to challenge next season.

Even in being relegated last year, they were tough to beat on a tiny budget and their home form was impressive.

Their squad is currently in a real state of flux, with much work to be done.

A number of important players are in talks with their contracts running down, while the influential midfielder Will Vaulks seems certain to join Cardiff City.

Semi Ajayi, an excellent defender and major weapon from set pieces, could also move back up to the Championship.

Either way, it will be a major surprise if they don’t compete right at the top. 

 

Bolton Wanderers (A) September 21

 

Last season: 23rd (Championship)

 

Bookies predict: Relegation

 

Manager: Phil Parkinson

 

How they’re shaping up

 

Bolton’s fluctuating odds reflect a club that is in severe limbo where it is impossible to predict what is coming next.

On the one hand, they remain a mess, administrators still seeking to secure new owners.

They have only a handful of players contracted to the club and a 12-point deduction already in place.

On the other, they are a big club for this level and Phil Parkinson, should any new ownership decide to keep him, is proven at League One level.

There are talented players, too, such as Erhun Oztumer, Luca Connell and former Black Cat Ben Alnwick.

 

MK Dons (H) September 28th

 

Last season: 3rd (League Two)

 

Bookies predict: Play-off challengers

 

Manager: Paul Tisdale

 

How they’re shaping up

 

They’re a side with good spending power who arguably should never have found themselves in League Two to begin with.

They have some excellent talent, though former Arsenal youngster Chuks Aneke is likely to be the subject of intense transfer interest this summer.

Their business already done in the market looks savvy.

Regan Poole joins from Manchester United having excelled on loan at Newport County, while midfielder Hiram Boateng is a superb addition on a free and has an excellent relationship with manager Paul Tisdale.

Alongside Lincoln City, they are a side that most will expect to make a solid transition to League One.