Blocked transfers, managerial pressure and exits: How Sunderland's League One promotion rivals are shaping-up
The 2020/21 League One promotion race looks set to be another competitive affair, with a number of clubs vying for a place in the Championship.
But how are Sunderland’s main rivals shaping-up ahead of the September 12 kick-off?
We take a look at the teams expected to be in contention for promotion this season to see how they are preparing for the new campaign – focusing on what’s gone well for them this summer, and the challenges they still face:
In Lee Bowyer, Charlton have one of the best young managers in the EFL - keep hold of him, and they can have every belief that they will be able to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt. But that may be easier said than done, with a number of second tier undoubtedly keeping a close eye on the Addicks’ boss.
While Charlton may have a decent core of a side, they remain under a transfer embargo which has restricted their ability to hand existing players contracts. With off-field uncertainty continuing - and with no resolution seemingly near - it could be a tough summer for the Addicks. Reports in London suggest they have already seen moves for Conor Washington and Alex Gilbey blocked by red tape, although Ben Amos and Jonny Williams have extended their stays in a minor boost.
Having come close to promotion last season, the Cod Army have managed to retain the majority of their squad. While Joey Barton likes to build-up a ‘David v Golliath’ narrative around his squad, the reality is that Fleetwood are well-backed by owner Andy Pilley and are able to offer some good contracts to players - which should aid them this summer. Indeed, their transfer business thus far has been impressive with Callum Camps and Jordan Rossiter both arriving.
Fleetwood have, however, lost some notable loanees - such as Harry Souttar and Barrie McKay - who could prove difficult to replace. The departure of Lewie Coyle to rivals Hull City is another blow.
In Grant McCann, Hull have a manager who is well-versed in the third tier via his stints at Peterborough United and Doncaster. And while they may have struggled for form last season, they remain an attractive name to potential signings - which could prove a significant help in a competitive market.
While Hull have retained a number of players, there will undoubtedly be interest from levels above in some of their star men. Off-field tensions are growing on Humberside too - and will only grow with a poor start to life in League One.
Ipswich will keep hold of the majority of the squad that played in League One last season, and in Paul Lambert they have an experienced manager.
THE CHALLENGESLambert still has some work to do in convincing Ipswich fans that he is the right man for the job after a difficult debut season at Portman Road. Questions will also be asked over whether the Tractor Boys are able to retain some of their better players - with the likes of James Norwood and Kayden Jackson already attracting interest from elsewhere.
Oxford’s summer recruitment thus far has been excellent. The permanent signing of Matty Taylor is a signal of intent while an equally important bit of business saw star midfielder Cameron Brannagan sign a new two-year contract.
Keeping hold of defender Rob Dickie could prove a challenge for the U’s this summer, while the departure of loanee Marcus Browne also leaves a vacancy which Karl Robinson will need to fill this summer.
Posh won’t need to be too busy in the market this summer, with a strong core of a squad in place already. Darragh MacAnthony and his co-owners are prepared to back Darren Ferguson in the market though, meaning the London Road side will once again have a squad prepared to challenge for promotion.
THE CHALLENGESReplacing Ivan Toney will be the major challenge for Ferguson this summer. While the club’s track record of recruiting strikers is exceptional, filling the gap left by Toney will be no easy feat.
Similarly to Peterborough, it’s set to be a summer of evolution rather than revolution at Fratton Park with a strong squad already in place. Retaining defender Lee Brown - and sealing a permanent move for Sean Raggett - were two positive early pieces of business by Pompey.
Portsmouth fans remain divided over the future of Kenny Jackett, although chief executive Mark Catlin has publicly backed the manager. Pompey will also be braced for bids for some of their star men - not least goalkeeper Alex Bass and wideman Ronan Curtis.
THE POSITIVESWigan’s form towards the end of the Championship campaign - in the face of a raft of off-field issues, should give them hope that they can bounce back from League One should they be galvanised once again under new management.
It’s set to be a tumultuous summer for the Latics, and the path ahead for the club remains unclear.