First look at Sunderland’s Championship rivals.. what chance do the Black Cats have of bouncing back?

Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce.
Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce.
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Huddersfield Town’s penalty shoot-out win over Reading means that Sunderland now know their 23 Championship opponents next season.

The Terriers join Newcastle United and Brighton in the Premier League, with Sheffield United, Bolton Wanderers and Millwall making the leap to the second tier from League One.

The league looks to be a fairly open one as teams begin their summer planning, the early odds reflecting the fact that there is no overwhelming favourite as there was last season when the sales of Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum allowed Rafa Benitez to build one of the strongest sides seen in the Championship.

The Black Cats are seen as outsiders for a play-off push, tenth favourite to win the division. That perhaps reflects the uncertainty on Wearside as a number of players prepare to leave and the search for a new manager continues. 

So who are seen as the early contenders to make life difficult for Sunderland next year?

The front runners: Aston Villa and Fulham

Aston Villa went on an extraordinary spending spree last summer and indeed in January, looking well stocked for a promotion challenge.

They have proven Championship goalscorers in Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia, while the likes of Conor Hourihane and Neil Taylor could make a bigger impact after having a number of months to acclimatize to their new clubs.

Nevertheless, Steve Bruce has found consistency hard to come by since taking the post last summer and with a shoestring budget this time around, they don’t make for convincing favourites.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham are second placed and the superb form they ended this season in, playing the best attacking football in the division, makes them the early tip for many.

Jokanovic did an outstanding job replacing the prolific Moussa Dembele and Ross McCormack last summer and could face a similar challenge if Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon leave as is heavily rumoured.

Their primary task is to address a defence that hasn’t always convinced.

Looking strong: Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday

Of all the sides relegated, Middlesbrough look to be in the best shape.

They may still be searching for a new manager but financially are comfortable and Steve Gibson is set to invest heavily, while a number of those involved in their most recent promotion campaign will likely star again next year.

Should they land favourite Garry Monk they may quickly become short odds for the title.

Sheffield Wednesday will hope they can follow Brighton’s lead and turn a number of play-off near misses into a promotion campaign.

Their strength in depth is extraordinary at this level, and securing a new contract for Carlos Carvalhal ensures they will take a continuity into next year that will surely make them strong contenders.

Outside contenders: Hull, Derby County and Norwich City

With uncertainty over the ownership, in the dugout and with the playing staff, Hull face many of the same issues as Sunderland this summer.

The loss of Marco Silva will be a big blow and it is difficult to see them bouncing back with so many stable and well backed sides elsewhere.

Derby have flattered to deceive for a number of years but will be hoping that Gary Rowett can toughen them up and finally secure promotion.

They will be one of the better backed sides yet again.

Daniel Farke, David Wagner’s successor as Borussia Dortmund’s B team coach, has taken over at Norwich and with a number of their experienced campaigners released, they look set for a significant revamp following a disappointing season.

Financially stable and still benefiting from parachute payments, they are another side who will be there or thereabouts.

Ones to watch: Reading, Cardiff City and Birmingham City

How Reading respond to their play-off heartbreak will depend much on whether they can convince Jaap Stam to stay on as manager, With new Chinese ownership recently confirmed they will be hoping to move on to the next level.

Neil Warnock is targeting one last promotion at the end of a successful career in the second tier, but whether Cardiff’s brittle finances will allow him to invest sufficiently remains to be seen.

As for Birmingham, their spectacular collapse will take some recovering from.

Leeds will be a force to reckon with should they land Aitor Karanka, while a potential Wolves challenge rests on what calibre of player super agent Jorge Mendes can provide for new boss Nuno.

There may not be a runaway winner next season, or even two sides surging clear at the top, but it is equally clear that the Black Cats face an enormous challenge to bounce back amongst so many stable and very well funded outfits.