Sunderland legend: Club will struggle in League One unless Ellis Short finds a buyer

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Sunderland legend Micky Gray believes the club will struggle in League One unless Ellis Short can sell the club this summer.

The Black Cats will be playing third tier football next season, defeat at Fulham confirming Sunderland will finish bottom of the Championship table ahead of the season finale at home to Wolves on Sunday lunchtime.

Sunderland owner Ellis Short.

Sunderland owner Ellis Short.

And former defender Gray fears the club may not bounce straight back should Short remain as owner.

Short, yet to speak with manager Chris Coleman, is actively looking to sell the club.

On Friday, Gray hinted a takeover deal could be close after claiming there is 'going to be a bit of excitement' in the next few weeks for his hometown club.

A number of parties have expressed an interest with varying degrees of due diligence completed but no deal is thought to be close as things stand.

When asked whether he thought Sunderland's fortunes would be any different in League One, Gray told Sky Sports: "Not unless there is a takeover.

"While we have these guys Ellis Short and Martin Bain in charge of the club I don’t think things will change.

"A lot of loanees and players on the cheap came in and we didn’t spend a lot of money in the transfer windows.

"So the players who were already at the club knew there was no pressure on their position and when there is no pressure you can down tools a little bit.

"You have got a 48,000-seater stadium and when they have success every seat is filled.

"The supporters want to see a little bit of success. They love their football - the North East is all about football but they have had six years of relegation fights.

"We have won two games at home this season so you wouldn’t want to go and watch that every week.

"So unless they go in a direction where the manager is in charge - and I hope that is Chris, someone else is running the club and giving him the funds for League One.

"Then you have a plan and a direction we are going in.

"If it stays the way it is right now, we will be fighting in the bottom half of the table in League One."

Bain, the club's chief executive, last week told the Echo there are parties actively considering taking on the club, but that the significant running costs required are a potential stumbling block.

Sunderland are also saddled with a significant debt, the last set of accounts, up to July 2016, showed the gross debt was £137million.

Around half the debt, £69million, is to Short himself and the balance of £68million is owed to Security Bank Corporation with significant annual interest payments per year too.

Bain, speaking last week, said: "There are a few parties who are currently looking at the club in a meaningful way.

"I would really hope that now the club knows its position in terms of which league it will be playing in, that might give some clarity to any potential buyer to formulate their thoughts and a deal.

"I feel positive because anybody who looks at the club now, can see that it is a distressed asset but one that has all the fundamentals, and that is exciting."