“I need to prove myself": Carl Winchester on his Championship ambitions and defensive role at Sunderland

Carl Winchester says he can’t wait to test himself at Championship level and believes it will be a great opportunity for several members of the Sunderland squad.

The 29-year-old featured regularly for the Black Cats as they won promotion from League One last season, yet he’s yet to play in the second tier.

Sunderland will start their 2022/23 campaign at home to Coventry City this weekend and Winchester is looking forward to the occasion.

“Obviously everyone will be buzzing for it,” he told the Echo. “The Championship is a massive league and an opportunity for a lot of players.

Carl Winchester playing for Sunderland in pre-season. Picture by Frank Reid

“I need to prove myself out there and a lot of the younger lads in the team will be looking to do the same.

“It’s my first time playing in the Championship so it’s one I’m really excited for.

“Obviously it’s a big step up for a lot of us, we are no mugs.

“We have quality in the squad and will hopefully add another couple of players and then we’ll be competing.

“It’s about getting ourselves ready in training all this week for Sunday."

Winchester didn’t play in Sunderland’s win at Wembley in the League One play-off final due to an injury, but had been operating on the right of a back three before the setback.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil has looked to change his side’s shape to play with a 4-2-3-1 set-up in pre-season, yet Winchester says he’s ready for when his opportunity comes.

“The gaffer likes me back there so I’m happy enough to play anywhere for this club,” Winchester added when asked about playing in defence. “It’s a massive club and an opportunity for me.

“I’m just taking each game as it comes and taking everything in my stride. If my chance comes it’s just all about taking it.

“It’s a long season and if I get that chance it’s just down to me to take it.”

Winchester, who joined Sunderland from Forest Green last year, is also looking forward to seeing a packed Stadium of Light when Sunderland host Coventry to kick off the campaign.

The shortened pre-season, due to this year’s World Cup, meant Sunderland players returned for training a month after promotion was confirmed, with preparations quickly ramping up for the new campaign.

“It felt like Wembley was last week and what a day it was unbelievable for everyone associated with the club,” said Winchester.

“Now the season is starting and we are fully focused on that.

"The whole city seems to be on an up and that’s good. The fans deserve it and the past couple of years they have been through a lot.

“They deserve it, they deserve Wembley and they deserve Championship football so we are just happy to bring that to them.

"Sunday is going to be a big game but obviously we are back at home, everyone is buzzing to be back at home and obviously getting the fans in.

“It’s one we are all looking forward to and I can’t wait.”