From strong signings to relegation uncertainty: How Sunderland's early League One opponents are shaping up

Sunderland discovered their League One fixture list on Thursday morning, with Max Power’s Wigan Athletic travelling to the Stadium of Light on the opening day.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 12:45 pm

Fixtures against MK Dons, Burton Albion, AFC Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers conclude a busy opening month for the Black Cats.

So how are their first opponents shaping up for the campaign ahead, and what business have they already concluded?

We run you through all the key updates so far….

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Max Power is set for a swift return to the Stadium of Light
Max Power is set for a swift return to the Stadium of Light

WIGAN ATHLETIC

IN: Jack Whatmough (Portsmouth), Tom Naylor (Portsmouth), Gwion Edwards (Wigan Athletic), Jordan Cousins (Stoke City), Max Power (Stoke City)

OUT: Lee Evans (Ipswich Town), Chris Merrie (Tranmere Rovers), Owen Evans (Cheltenham Town)

RELEASED: Zach Clough, Dan Gardner, Alex Perry, Corey Whelan

STATE OF PLAY: A long-awaited takeover sparked a charge to safety under Leam Richardson last season and their early business suggests there is significant ambition to push for play-offs at the very least.

Losing influential midfielder Lee Evans to Ipswich Town was a significant blow, and it looks as if winger Viv Solomon-Otabor will seek a new challenge, with Sunderland one potential destination.

In Tom Naylor and Jordan Cousins they have brought in experience and quality to replace Naylor, while Jack Whatmough has long been considered one of the most talented defenders in the division when fit.

Like MK Dons, they are also understood to be interested in a potential move for Will Grigg, which would add another layer of intrigue to a game that will see Max Power make a speedy return to the Stadium of Light.

Wigan won both fixtures against Sunderland last season and though like the Black Cats they will start the campaign very much a team in transition, the early evidence suggests they will be considerably stronger.

MK DONS

IN: Scott Twine (MK Dons), Franco Ravizzoli (Eastbourne)

OUT: Matthew Sorinola (Union SG), Cameron Jerome (Luton Town)

RELEASED: Kieran Agard, Jordan Houghton, Joe Mason, Lee Nicholls

STATE OF PLAY: MK Dons developed a reputation as one of the best footballing sides in the division and towards the end of last season, their results began to catch up.

Russell Martin's side comfortably enjoyed the most possession in the division last season, with an average of just over 64%.

Though their form at the beginning of the season was poor, their 2-1 win over the Black Cats in November showed their potential quality and proved a pivotal afternoon in Phil Parkinson's tenure.

Their January business was sound and sparked a mini dash towards the play-off places, and so optimism will be high ahead of the new campaign.

Key will be how they replace Cameron Jerome, the experienced target man who was a key part of their success last season.

Perhaps even more significant is the doubts over the future of talismanic central midfielder Scott Fraser, who has been strongly linked with a move to Wigan Athletic.

To that end, the addition of Scott Twine, who thrived in a poor Swindon Town outfit last season, looks a canny bit of business.

BURTON ALBION

IN: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Oldham Athletic), Deji Oshilaja (Charlton Athletic), Omari Patrick (Carlisle United), Frazer Blake-Tracy (Peterborough United), Louis Moult (Preston North End), Bryn Morris (Portsmouth) Tom O'Connor (Southampton)

OUT: None

RELEASED: Colin Daniel, Jevan Anderson, John-Joe O'Toole, Owen Gallacher, Neal Eardley, Stephen Quinn, Luke Varney, Mike Fondop, Reece Hutchinson, Ben Fox, Tom Armitage, Ben Hart

STATE OF PLAY: The Brewers looked doomed for relegation before reappointing Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink.

The former Chelsea forward transformed their fortunes, and from that point onward they were one of the form teams in the division.

They have been one of the most active sides in the early stages of the transfer window, and will have a very different look at the beginning of the new campaign.

Hasselbaink made his side tough to beat as they climbed comfortably clear of safety, and the template will be much the same for the upcoming campaign.

AFC WIMBLEDON

IN: N/A

OUT: Joe Pigott

RELEASED: Callum Reilly, Shane McLoughlin, Luke O'Neill

STATE OF PLAY: Mark Robinson proved a smart appointment as head coach last season, steering the team away from relegation danger.

The club's biggest task this summer is to replace Joe Pigott, their best player and main source of goals since their promotion to the third tier.

Sunderland are one of the clubs interested in Pigott, as they wait for developments on Charlie Wyke's uncertain future.

Another gap to fill is that of George Dobson. The midfielder made a big impression on loan last season and while he is expected to depart the Stadium of Light permanently, Robinson has said that he expects him to take a more lucrative offer than the one offered by Wimbledon.

They have been strongly linked with Chelsea's Luke McCormick in that position; a player who shone in a struggling Bristol Rovers side last season.

WYCOMBE WANDERERS

IN: N/A

OUT: Fred Onyedinma (Luton Town)

RELEASED: Ryan Allsop, Cameron Yates, Giles Phillips, Darius Charles, Andron Georgiou

STATE OF PLAY: Remarkably, Wycombe still do not have total clarity over which division they will be playing in next season.

On the eve of the fixture release, the EFL announced that it could yet appeal a £100,000 fine handed out to Derby County by an independent commission for a breach of FFP rules.

A stronger sanction could therefore lead to a reprieve for Wycombe, who came closer than anyone had expected to beating the Championship drop.

That uncertainty cannot be helpful, but Ainsworth has proved to be a remarkably resourceful manager.

He has work to do in replacing the influential Fred Onyedinma, while there is also uncertainty over Uche Ikpeazu, who proved an inspired addition last summer.

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