The revealing statistics that put Sunderland's encouraging start to the season into context
After a crucial win over Birmingham City, the prevailing mood amongst Sunderland supporters entering the World Cup break was so far, so pretty much good.
The aim of this season was consolidation with a view to kicking on, so being four points from the play-offs despite some major injuries issues and the loss of an inspirational head coach represents a more than solid return.
To try and put Sunderland's progress so far into context, we've compared how the teams promoted from League One to the Championship have fared over the last eight seasons, both in terms of where they were now and where they eventually finished up....
2021/22 - Blackpool make their mark
At this stage last season Blackpool had the same number of points as Sunderland, though they did sit four places higher in the table. They would fall in the second half of the campaign, but a final points tally of 60 was one of the most impressive for a promoted team in recent years. The evidence suggests that the gap between the second and third tier is widening over time.Hull City and Peterborough broadly maintained a consistent level across the campaign, with the latter suffering relegation back to League One.
Blackpool - 27 points and 11th after 20 games; 60 points and 16th at the end of the campaign
Hull - 21 points and 19th; 51 points and 19th
Peterborough - 16 points and 22nd; 37 points and 22nd
2020/21 - Almost a great escape
Wycombe Wanderers were the big outlier in this campaign, recovering from a wretched start to almost secure survival.Coventry City were the strongest placed at this stage, though comfortably below Sunderland's currently tally, and eventually matched Blackpool's 16th-placed finish.
Coventry - 22 points and 18th after 20 games; 55 points and 16th at the end of the campaign
Wycombe - 12 points and 24th; 43 points and 22nd
Rotherham - 16 points and 21st; 40 points and 22nd.
2019/20 - A tough campaign and one great escape
All three promoted sides were a way below Sunderland's current tally at this stage of the campaign, though in the end only Charlton Athletic were relegated. Barnsley did superbly to get out of trouble under Gerhard Struber.Luton Town did stay away from any significant threat of relegation even if they were the worst-placed team at this stage, building the platform for the excellent campaigns they've produced since.Luton - 20 points and 20th after 20 games; 51 points and 19th at the end of the campaignBarnsley - 12 points and 24th; 40 points and 21stCharlton - 23 points and 17th; 48 points and 22nd
2018/19 - Mowbray's Blackburn stand out
Tony Mowbray's Blackburn Rovers had two more points than his Sunderland side at this stage, and would go on to match Blackpool's 60-point tally. Wigan and Rotherham found it tougher going, though the former did survive and would go on to improve considerably before hitting administration a couple of years later.
Blackburn - 29 points and 10th after 20 games; 60 points and 15th at the end of the campaign
Wigan Athletic - 25 points and 15th; 52 points and 18th
Rotherham - 20 points and 20th; 40 points and 22nd
2017/18 - Two hugely impressive campaigns
Millwall produced one of the best-ever campaigns from a promoted side, particularly given they had only gone up through the play-offs the previous year. Only two teams have bettered their eight-placed finish, and they were both in the same year. It was an achievement built on the back of a long unbeaten run in the second half of the season.Though Sheffield United did fall away, they served notice of their quality and would be promoted the following campaign.
Sheffield United - 37 points and 4th after 20 games; 60 points and 10th at the end of the campaign
Millwall - 22 points and 20th; 72 points and 8th
Bolton - 16 points and 21st; 43 points and 21st
2016/17 - A steady campaign from Barnsley
All three promoted sides understandably found this a difficult campaign, but Burton Albion did superbly to survive and Barnsley ended up with a solid points haul and a strong position for a promoted side.
Barnsley - 28 points and 11th after 20 games; 58 points and 14th at the end of the campaign
Burton - 22 points and 20th; 52 points and 20th
Wigan - 18 points and 23rd; 42 points and 23rd
2015/16 - Two strong efforts
Preston North End and Bristol City survived on their return to League One and kicked on from there, maintaining their Championship status in every campaign since. MK Dons struggled to make an impact throughout the campaign and rarely moved close to getting out of trouble.
Preston - 24 points and 16th after 20 games; 62 points and 11th at the end of the campaign
Bristol City - 19 points and 19th after 20 games; 52 points and 18th
MK Dons - 16 points and 22nd after 20 games; 39 points and 23rd
2014/15 - A major outlier
An astonishing feat that hasn't come close to being replicated since as two teams broke into the top seven, with Brentford even making the play-offs. Mark Warburton's side were eventually beaten by Middlesbrough in the semi finals but like Kenny Jackett's Wolves showed they had the quality to eventually go and win promotion, though the latter were of course aided by a major takeover. The two are very much outliers in terms of their points hauls for a promoted club over the last ten years, perhaps reflecting the increasing importance of parachute payments in the second tier and the widening gap within the division itself.Wolves, interestingly, did have the same number of points as Sunderland do now after 20 games, showing what can be done.
Brentford - 34 points and 5th after 20 games; 78 points and 5th at the end of the campaign
Wolves - 27 points and 13th after 20 games; 78 points and 7th at the end of the campaign
So - what should we make of Sunderland?
Putting their performance so far into context, it's been strong. Only a handful of promoted teams have bettered their current points tally, and that drops to just three in the last six campaigns.Track at their current points-per-game rate and they'll end up with a tally of around 62, which would be the best for a promoted side since both Millwall and Sheffield United impressed in 2017/18.So how likely is that? The evidence would suggest that promoted sides often find it tougher as the campaign goes on, with just 7 of the last 24 managing to go on and improve their position from this point of the season. That probably reflects promoted teams losing their advantage of unfamiliarity in the early weeks of the season, and the likelihood of thinner squads assembled on a smaller budget becoming more exposed over the course of a long campaign.The positive for Sunderland is that they'll feel it will be the opposite for them - they have some key players returning to fitness and have had the chance for their new head coach to spend valuable time on the training ground during this period. The January window, retaining the squad's key players and adding to it, will be key.History suggests it is not easy coming into this division, so Sunderland's platform is not to be underestimated.