Key areas for Sunderland to strengthen
The season may have only just finished but work is well underway to bolster the Sunderland squad ahead of a promotion assault on League One.
June is traditionally the time for footballers and coaching staff to wind down following a hectic campaign, certainly the case at Sunderland following a 61-game season and the cruelest of endings against Charlton Athletic.
Yet, there is little time to lose in the transfer market if Sunderland are to bounce back strongly following a disappointing end which saw the Black Cats finish fifth and lose in the play-off final.
Adding strength-in-depth in key areas, rather than major surgery on a Sunderland squad that fell short in their bid for promotion, is likely to be the order of the day.
Loanees Jimmy Dunne (Burnley), Lewis Morgan (Celtic) and Kaz Sterling (Tottenham Hotspur) have left, while Robbin Ruiter has already announced his departure.
High earner Adam Matthews is unlikely to stay, while there are growing doubts over the future of soon-to-be-out-of-contract Elliot Embleton, while Dylan McGeouch is weighing up his future.
Sunderland will need to be busy this summer, with ex-Celtic talent spotter John Park set to arrive as director of football, provided Mark Campbell becomes the new majority shareholder.
Ross, who celebrated his birthday on Wednesday, will remain as manager with the focus quickly shifting towards transfer business.
Some of the high earners will be moved on with Bryan Oviedo the most likely to depart, with interest from Club Brugge.
But which areas do Sunderland need to prioritise?
Matthews is likely to leave and Luke O’Nien, while brilliant deputising at right-back, is not a full back by trade and there is a role for him further up the park.
Denver Hume and Reece James, if he agrees to another season, will likely battle it out at left-back but Sunderland are short at right-back. Sorting out the defence is key for Ross.
Jack Baldwin, Alim Ozturk, Glenn Loovens, Tom Flanagan and Jimmy Dunne were all given game time.
Yet Ross never settled on a pairing, the centre back options constantly changing following erratic performances.
A key factor in missing out on automatic promotion. Baldwin found himself out the side at the end of the season, Loovens too.
Their futures are in doubt and with Dunne already departing, bolstering the defensive options is key.
Physicality, presence and aerial prowess an absolute must.
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One-paced Sunderland lacked craft, guile and creativity when Aiden McGeady missed the final weeks, his absence keenly felt as automatic promotion slipped out of their hands.
Lewis Morgan has gone back to Celtic with doubts over whether he would return. With Duncan Watmore missing several months through injury, Sunderland were devoid of wide options.
Sunderland would do well to hold on to McGeady, he is clearly capable of playing at a higher level.
Adding more width is high on the transfer priorities.
Chris Maguire and George Honeyman were often deployed in this role, Max Power, at times, too towards the end of the season.
Sunderland need to improve the link-up play between midfield and attack, the strikers too often isolated last season.
Will Grigg, plagued by an ankle injury, scored just five goals following his £3million January move, Charlie Wyke endured a difficult start, bounced back strongly but ultimately managed only five goals.
Watmore will be much stronger for having a proper pre-season after his injury problems but Ross will be targeting at least one more striker, ideally a couple, if Sunderland are to maintain a promotion push next season having fallen short this year.
It has proved a steep learning curve for Ross, his first season managing in English football, the highs of leading Sunderland to Wembley twice but ultimately a campaign that ended in failure.
Ross said: “Over the course of the season we understand which areas we need to improve, we haven’t fallen short by very much but we have done [fallen short].
“That means there must be areas to improve upon, we have probably been aware of it for a while but you can’t do that much over the last few months of the season when the transfer window closes.
“But you have to be big enough to reflect on what you could have done better to avoid being in this sort of similar situation next season.”
A pivotal few weeks, therefore, lies ahead at the Stadium of Light.