Jon McLaughlin believes that Sunderland’s squad depth could prove the key to a successful campaign.
While Jack Ross was forced to operate with a somewhat threadbare squad for much of pre-season, the return of several key players from injury has handed the Scot a welcome boost.
And McLaughlin feels that once the Black Cats have a fully clean bill of health, there will be nobody in League One able to match their strength in depth.
Sunderland’s treatment room was jam-packed during the early weeks of the season, but there are now only two absentees - Duncan Watmore and Aiden McGeady.
The likes of Dylan McGeouch, Charlie Wyke, Jermone Sinclair and Tom Flanagan have all returned to action in recent weeks - adding some extra depth and quality to Ross’ side.
McGeouch’s return has been particularly significant with the midfielder starring in Sunderland’s engine room and delivering on much of the promise he showed during pre-season.
The impacts of Wyke, Sinclair and Flanagan are only likely to increase as well, with none of the trio yet to complete a full 90 minutes since their return.
But when they are firing on all cylinders - and when McGeady and Watmore make their comebacks - McLaughlin feels that no team will be able to match the strength of the squad assembled by Ross.
“We’ve still got a couple yet to come back and we’ve got a team and a squad where if everybody’s fit there will be no stronger team,” he said.
“No one will come close in this division.
“It would be great if we could get everyone fit and firing – the competition for places would be great and give the gaffer a real headache about who he puts out there.”
While the return of these experienced professionals will pose some selection dilemmas for the Sunderland boss, so too will the emergence of some of the club’s younger players.
Denver Hume, in particular, could pose a headache for Ross after some standout displays - and McLaughlin believes that the emergence of youngsters is only a good thing for competition within the squad.
And the Scot insists that such competition within the squad will reap its rewards over the course of the season.
“He played well on Tuesday night and it just shows,” added the stopper.
“He’s a young lad with massive potential and he’s gone into the cup competition, impressed, and given the gaffer something to think about for the rest of the week, so much so that he’s put him in the starting line-up for the next league game.
“He showed a great attitude on Tuesday night to go out there and stamp his mark and he’s got his rewards for it. He played well again versus Fleetwood.
“He’s a very good player, a defender who’s got real quality going the other way as well.
“The more players you have in your squad who are contributing, the better over the course of the season.”