The key promotion lessons Sunderland must learn from Hull City, Peterborough United and Blackpool ahead of League One title tilt
As Sunderland prepare for a fourth season in League One, Lee Johnson will hope to be the man to finally identify the formula that will lead the side out of the third tier.
The Black Cats came close to promotion last season before being beaten in the play-off semi-finals – with Hull City Peterborough United and Blackpool the trio ultimately rising to the Championship.
And while Johnson and the club’s executive team will no doubt be keen to do things their own way as they eye a title tilt, there are undoubtedly lessons that can be gained from the three clubs who achieved promotion this term.
So what tips can be garnered from Hull, Peterborough and Blackpool? We take a look:
UTILISE THE LOAN MARKET
With the exception of Dion Sanderson, this is an area which Sunderland have not utilised to its full advantage during their time in League One.
The likes of Declan John, Laurens De Bock and Kazaiah Sterling failed to deliver during their temporary stints at the Stadium of Light over recent seasons – but there are good loan signings to be found in the third tier.
And indeed, all three of the promoted sides this season benefitted from astute moves in the loan market.
Loanees Regan Slater, Daniel Crowley and Gavin Whyte all made more than 20 appearances for Hull en route to promotion, while Peterborough benefitted from the addition of Reece Brown.
At Blackpool, Elliot Embleton and Ellis Simms both helped the side push up the table before sealing promotion – while Jordan Gabriel was a regular during his loan spell from Nottingham Forest.
On Wearside, while Jordan Jones made something of an impact there was only really Sanderson who you could say constituted a regular for large spells of the campaign.
This, therefore, is a market Sunderland have to exploit better.
Naturally, there is a balance to be found.
Clubs can name up to five loan signings in every match day squad, but the three teams who were promoted last season tended to not rely on loan signings that heavily.
The danger with signing too many loan players is that the voids they leave can often prove tricky to fill – as may well be the case at play-off finalists Lincoln City this term as the likes of Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rodgers prepare to depart.
But that doesn’t mean a few well-calculated and planned loan signings wouldn’t benefit Sunderland in getting out of League One.
TRUST IN YOUNG TALENT
A recent tweet by Prospect Watch shed a light on the number of minutes given to players under the age of 23 by League One clubs last season.
Sunderland were second bottom on the list, handing just 3150 minutes to young talent during the 2020/21 campaign. Only Portsmouth dished out less minutes to youngsters.
And while neither Peterborough or Hull City were near the top of the list, they did both hand far more opportunities to young players during the course of the season (8011 and 15,543 respectively).
Both teams handed opportunities to academy graduates throughout the term and, in the case of Hull, were key players.
Keane Lewis-Potter and Jacob Greaves played starring roles in the Tigers’ title victory, so could Sunderland follow suit and hand chances to the likes of Dan Neil and Oliver Younger moving forward?
Johnson has been clear on the fact that the pair and others, such as Josh Hawkes, will be given a chance to shine in pre-season.
From there it will be up to them to stake a claim, but Sunderland could certainly benefit from an injection of youth moving forward.
TARGET SPENDING – AND SPLASH THE CASH ON THE RIGHT PLAYERS
This summer is likely to be another transfer window in which a large number of deals completed involve free agents, simply given the plethora of talent that is available in that market.
But Sunderland may well be in a position to spend some money given Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ takeover, and if that is the case then they need to ensure that the spending is targeted.
Will Grigg and George Dobson could both leave the club this summer having fallen out of favour despite the club shelling out fees for them in recent years, and the Black Cats need to ensure that they spend their money correctly this summer.
The perfect example is perhaps Jonson Clarke-Harris at Peterborough last season. He was a big money signing in a window where fees were scarcely spent, but delivered the goods.
The striker fitted well into Peterborough’s system and was a calculated and well thought out signing.
Resale value is key too, and Clarke-Harris could net Posh a handsome return this summer with rumours of top-end Championship interest.
Similarly at Hull City, the money spent on the likes of George Honeyman and Greg Docherty in recent windows delivered short-term gains in that they helped the side to achieve promotion, and it is not inconceivable that the duo could be sold on in the future too.
Sunderland need to ensure that if they are to spend money this summer, it needs to be on the right players. We’ve seen promising signs on that front with the capture of Ross Stewart, and now that must continue.
There are likely to be some free agent signings, of course, but Louis-Dreyfus’ backing may allow the Black Cats to dip into different markets too.
If they do that, it must be done correctly.