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The clear transfer priorities that have emerged for Sunderland ahead of their Championship return

With the release of the retained list earlier this week, Sunderland's squad for their Championship return has started to tentatively take shape.

By Phil Smith
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 4:45 pm

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So where do they look strong and perhaps more importantly, where will they need to recruit in the weeks ahead?

We take a closer look, position by position..

GOALKEEPERS

Sunderland celebrate their play-off win at Wembley

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CONTRACTED: Anthony Patterson

Patterson looks well placed to stake his claim as Sunderland's number one through pre season after his excellent display at Wembley. Neil will no doubt want some more experience to offer cover and competition, and to guard against any understandable dip in form from a still relatively inexperienced player.

With the clause to convert his loan from Bayern Munich into a permanent deal automatically not triggered, it remains to be seen whether Sunderland pursue a deal for Thorben Hoffmann.

FULL BACKS

CONTRACTED: Trai Hume, Niall Huggins, Dennis Cirkin, Carl Winchester

Sunderland's business in this department will be in part guided by whether Huggins is able to return from injury for pre-season as planned.

Huggins looked a serious talent in his first appearances, with dynamism and tenacity. Dennis Cirkin's first season in senior football was a resounding success, playing his way through some indifferent form to finish in seriously impressive fashion.

Above that talented duo Sunderland will need some experience, particularly as Trai Hume continues to find his feet and settle. Neil rates him highly and a full pre season will be massive for him physically.

CENTRAL DEFENDERS

CONTRACTED: Danny Batth

You could make a strong case to say that this is the most important area for recruitment this summer. Sunderland left themselves light in January after Tom Flanagan's departure, with late moves to make further improvements falling through.

Batth has been an excellent addition and is ready to step up, while Bailey Wright agreeing a new contract would be a major boost.

Wright has said in the past he wants to stay, so you would expect that to come together.

Beyond that Sunderland will need two additions, ideally with pace and poise on the ball.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS

CONTRACTED: Dan Neil, Corry Evans, Jay Matete, Luke O'Nien

You could of course add Carl Winchester to this list and all in all, the club have a very solid base to work from.

Perhaps they will want a little bit more experience, given that three of the four have never played at Championship level. And there will of course be interest in Neil this summer, but in terms of quality and also physicality the starting point is a good one.

WINGERS

CONTRACTED: Jack Diamond, Leon Dajaku, Ellis Taylor

Promotion triggered a clause in Dajaku's loan at Union Berlin that now makes him a permanent Sunderland player. The German showed his definite promise at times across the campaign, and his ability to carry the ball forward quickly will definitely be a weapon Sunderland can use s they transition to a higher level.

He'll hope for greater consistency next season, and will no doubt be better for a full pre-season and the experience of having been able to settle on Wearside this season.

Jack Diamond has enjoyed an excellent campaign on loan at Harrogate Town and is clearly ready for a step up. Neil has had only a brief chance to look at him in training, so will make a more definitive decision through pre-season.

Sunderland clearly need to add two more if Neil is to continue with the 4-2-3-1 system he generally prefers. Lynden Gooch would add to the depth, and signing up Patrick Roberts would be a major boost.

The Black Cats could also explore the possibility of bringing Jack Clarke back to the club after a strong end to the campaign. That would be a very good platform from which to build on.

There is definitely a sense behind the scenes that while Sunderland clearly need to improve, they should look to have more continuity than in recent summers.

Now fully fit after injury, youngster Ellis Taylor will also hope to make an impression in pre-season.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

CONTRACTED: Alex Pritchard, Elliot Embleton

One area of the pitch where Sunderland will start from a position of strength. Alex Pritchard clearly has the quality to play in the Championship and after a full pre-season should be in a good position to hit the ground running. While it will be a step up for Elliot Embleton, technically he is good enough. The youngster also brings some welcome versatility and Wembley was the perfect example of how the pair can play together with great success. Both have key roles to play.

STRIKERS

CONTRACTED: Ross Stewart

There will undoubtedly be significant interest in Stewart this summer but Sunderland will hope that promotion gives them a good chance of convincing him that his journey on Wearside is anything but done yet.

Sunderland would like to reprise his partnership with Nathan Broadhead, but that is out of their hands to an extent.

Kristjaan Speakman will open talks with Everton this week to see if a deal can be struck, with the Welshman currently having one year left on his deal at Goodison Park.

You would also expect the Black Cats to try and have one more striker in their group. It's not always easy to recruit a player who knows they are likely to be facing an uphill battle for regular starts, hence why versatile players like Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts were recruited in January.

But Sunderland knew that they were taking too big a risk in the closing weeks of the season following Jermain Defoe's retirement, when they were a Stewart injury away from having no orthodox options.

They won't want a repeat of that next year.