The other key rebuild that needs to happen at Sunderland AFC this summer

Sunderland's preparations for their return to the Championship continue but it is not just at first-team level where there is much work to be done before the new campaign begins.

At U23 level, there are also a number of issues to be settled before the Premier League 2 Division 2 campaign begins.

The club's retained list confirmed the departure of a number of players who have been a core of the side in recent times, including Stephen Wearne and Kenton Richardson, who have since made good moves to Grimsby Town and Gateshead respectively.

With Benji Kimpioka leaving the club earlier this year, a lot of experience has understandably been allowed to leave in search of more regular senior football.

Sunderland have work to do at U23 level this summer

Those still at the club who would be expected to play a key role are for the most part currently training with Alex Neil's group in the early stages of pre-season. It's a valuable time for any youngster, giving them both exposure to the first-team environment and a valuable opportunity to impress the senior coaching staff.

Some will hope to make that arrangement more permanent through the campaign, as Ellis Taylor did last season when fit.

Taylor is one of many, though, who may feel the time is nearing to look towards a first loan move in search of regular exposure to senior football.

Goalkeeper Jacob Carney is expected to join Scottish side Queen's Park on loan, and a similar path may be the best option for players like Tom Scott, Harrison Sohna, Nathan Newall and Ethan Kachosa.

Even if some of those stay for the U23 season, it leaves a lot of recruiting to do.

Sunderland now look to push players quickly through the age groups to aid their development, and youngsters such as Zak Johnson and Caden Kelly who stepped up last year will look to kick on again.

External recruitment is clearly going to be important, though, with trialist from last season Michael Spellman currently the only confirmed arrival.

Off the pitch, the club also still needs to settle on its coaching structure.

After the departure of Lee Johnson, Michael Proctor and Mike Dodds oversaw two first-team fixtures and continued in a dual role to support Alex Neil through the remainder of the campaign.

With the departures of David Preece and Phil Jevons last week, Proctor and academy goalkeeping coach Mark Prudhoe are stepping up. That could yet turn into a more permanent arrangement, given the frequency with which Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has discussed developing not just the playing talent within the club, but the staff too.

Were that to happen, then either further internal promotion or external recruitment would be needed to establish the new coaching structure at U23 level.

Head of Coaching Stuart English, Academy Manager Lewis Dickman and Head of Individual Player Development Mike Dodds can all offer support, but strictly speaking overseeing the team's on-pitch performance on a weekly basis is not directly their responsibility.

Speakman's longer-term project of rebuilding and modernising the club's infrastructure has continued this summer, and this is another crucial part of the puzzle.

As at first-team level, there is promise to work with and a lot more to be done in the weeks ahead.