'The disaster may have only just begun, but there might just be hope at the end of the tunnel' - Tony Gillan has his say on Sunderland's Championship future

Who knows which players will step up next season? In fact, who the manager might even be?
Who knows which players will step up next season? In fact, who the manager might even be?
Have your say

There are certain things that won’t be missed as Sunderland slide out of the Premier League with a prolonged whimper.

In 2017-18 fans will not have to endure derby matches, Andre Marriner or I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. However, it will take rather more than that to convince anyone with even a fraction of a brain that “relegation might be a good thing”.

Sunderland’s previous nine demotions did not usher in nine separate periods of unfettered glory. Neither will this one.

Notably, the Premier League’s current top seven contains the six clubs to have never been relegated from that hallowed division. The other is Manchester City, who owe their status to a multi-zillion pound cash injection (I suggest that Sunderland do the same thing, although I concede that it may be easier than it sounds).

Ignore the codswallop. Relegation is never good news. In 2016-17 there are 27 clubs who used to be in the Premier League but currently aren’t. No doubt upon relegation they all looked forward to “a good clear-out” followed by “taking stock”, “re-evaluating” and an immediate return to the top. What could go wrong?

In 1985, Sunderland were relegated from the old First Division. They purged the squad that had taken them down, replacing Chris Turner, Barry Venison, Colin West, Gordon Chisholm, Nick Pickering, Shaun Elliott and others over the next two seasons.

It got them out of the Second Division – and into the Third. Forget anything you have heard to the contrary in the last 30 years: 1987 saw the worst Sunderland side ... EVER.

Still, it isn’t all doom and gloom. It very nearly is, but not quite.

History provides as much hope as despair. In 2005-06, Sunderland had an even worse squad than they do now, as proven by their 15-point relegation.

At that stage, many Sunderland supporters would have gladly seen the back of the likes of Dean Whitehead, Daryl Murphy, Stephen Elliott, Nyron Nosworthy, Liam Lawrence, Grant Leadbitter and Danny Collins. No one expended much hope on that lot.

But they all stayed and Sunderland were promoted as champions. The squad was augmented by arrivals such as Darren Ward, Liam Miller, David Connolly, Carlos Edwards, Ross Wallace, Dwight Yorke, and Graham Kavanagh.

The Premier League suitability of all 14 of those named players was something to worry about later because they didn’t cost much. By necessity, neither will any of Sunderland’s signings this summer.

What then can we conclude from the antithetical tales of 1985 and 2006? Anything you like I suppose; although they do illustrate the pitfalls of making bold predictions either way. No one has a clue what next season will bring.

One final thing that may benefit Sunderland is the enormous gulf in quality between the England’s top two leagues.

If former players such as the aforementioned Wallace, Murphy and Whitehead, along with Keiren Westwood, Steven Fletcher, DeAndre Yedlin, Jack Colback and Paul McShane had all re-joined Sunderland last season; do you know where the club would have finished?

That’s right. Bottom. Same as they did anyway. Yet all of those people play regularly for teams that will finish in the Championship’s top six.

Players who have loosened the follicles of Sunderland supporters this season might be more than adequate in the next.

No one can say with certainty who will play for, manage or even own the club in August. The disaster may have only just begun. But the last hope for the desperate football supporter is that anything can happen.

Fear the worst or hope for the best in the next 12 months. I recommend the latter. It’s better for your mental health.