Transfer embargoes, ambitious additions and key deals still to be done: How Sunderland's early opponents are shaping up

Sunderland’s promotion credentials will be tested early after they were handed a challenging start to the League One campaign.

Friday, 21st August 2020, 1:45 pm
Updated Friday, 21st August 2020, 2:19 pm

The Black Cats had already been handed a tough draw in the Carabao Cup, a clash against Hull City on September 5th that will effectively operate as the opening day of the season.

Hull City are a club where discontent is rife after a challenging few years, but they have responded to relegation by investing over a £1,000,000 in the transfer market and have picked up proven League One operators in the likes of Lewie Coyle and Greg Docherty.

The league campaign will begin a week later and Sunderland are set to face five teams with promotion ambitions in the opening weeks of the season.

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Sunderland lost to Bristol Rovers in their most recent League One game

So how are those early opponents shaping up? Who’ve they signed and what key players have they lost?

Here’s all you need to know...


In: Josh Grant (Chelsea), Jack Baldwin (Sunderland), Max Ehmer (Gillingham), Sam Nicholson (Colorado Rapids), Jonah Ayunga (Havant & Waterlooville), Zain Westbrooke (Coventry City)

Sunderland face Ben Garner's Bristol Rovers on the opening day of the season

Out: Ollie Clarke (Mansfield Town), Rollin Menayese (Mansfield Town)

Released: Tony Craig, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Liam Sercombe, Sam Matthews, Tom Nichols, Gavin Reilly, Ben Morgan, Josh Bailey, Lewis Clutton, Rhys Kavanagh and Theo Widdrington

Sunderland travelled to Bristol Rovers in March with manager Ben Garner under considerable pressure.

Rovers had been one of the surprise packages of the early part of the season, sitting firmly in play-off contention before Graham Coughlan's surprise move to Mansfield Town.

Garner initiated an overhaul of the team's playing style and the transition proved a challenging one.

Sunderland proved to be frustratingly accomodating opponents that night, falling to an insipid defeat that had significant consequences when fixtures were postponed days later.

The summer break has allowed Garner to put his own stamp on the squad, and he was backed by his club who were pro-active in securing deals before the salary cap vote.

Jack Baldwin's arrival is one that Sunderland fans noted with interest, while the additions of Max Ehmer and Zain Westbrooke showed ambition.

They'll pose a fascinating challenge for the Black Cats come September 12th.

One to watch between now and then

Man of the match on that woeful night in March was by some distance the outstanding Jonson Clarke-Harris.

Even if Rovers are playing a very different style these days, the outstanding number nine at this level remains as vital as ever.

There is a touch of uncertainty over his future, however, as he enters the last year of his current contract and mulls over a decision.


In: Matty Taylor (Bristol City), Sean Clare (Hearts), Marcus McGuane (Nottingham Forest, loan)


Released: George Thorne

As Sunderland know only too well, bouncing back from the agony of losing a play-off final at Wembley can be a difficult task, and one that will be only tougher for Karl Robinson's side given the rapid turnaround.

Signing Matty Taylor was a crucial bit of business to give them momentum as they head into the new campaign. The striker's goals, for his hometown club, made all the difference last season and as it stands, they have kept the core of their side together.

For that reason, there's no reason to think they can't challenge again.

The main task was always going to be in replacing their influential loanees, and it is a market Robinson uses well.

Their capture of former Barcelona youngster Marcus McGuane, to that end, represented something of a statement of intent.

One to watch between now and then

One of the best prospects outside the top-two tiers, centre-back Rob Dickie has a number of suitors.

Replacing him would be a big ask, were a move to materialise.

Robinson has already conceded that there is a good chance he could leave this summer.


In: Daniel Gyollai (Wigan Athletic), Ronnie Edwards (Barnet), Reece Brown (Huddersfield Town, loan), Ethan Hamilton (Manchester United)


Released: Aaron Chapman, Conor O’Malley, Rhys Bennett, Alex Woodyard (AFC Wimbledon), Callum Cooke, Marcus Maddison

Peterborough have vowed a 'revenge season' after being arguably the side to be most harshly punished by the EFL's points-per-game calculation to settle the League One table last season.

They have been one of the more active sides in terms of their pre-season programme thus far and even without Marcus Maddison, Sunderland fans know only too well the attacking threat they pose.

One to watch between now and then

Though his exit seems inevitable, Ivan Toney is still yet to seal his departure.

Peterborough have accepted a bid, but the player himself has hinted that he wants a move to the Premier League.

The sums involved could mean a late flurry in the market from Peterborough themselves.

Though they are bound by the new salary cap rules like everyone else, they are more relaxed than many promotion contenders, which most likely reflects the U21 talent they can call upon.


In: Conor Washington (Hearts), Alex Gilbey (MK Dons)

Out: Lyle Taylor (Nottingham Forest), Naby Sarr

Released: Chris Solly

Charlton are in a state of relative disarray as the new season approaches, with their long-term ownership problems still very much unresolved.

They have lost key players from the side that denied Sunderland promotion over a year ago, with the departure of talismanic Lyle Taylor likely to be particularly key.

Doubts remain over the future of some other key operators and Lee Bowyer has laid bare the stark restrictions in which he is operating.

Due to an EFL embargo, he can only offer £1,300 a week to potential recruits.

“How are we meant to bridge the gap between the top six or seven teams?’ he said, speaking to London News Online.

“There are non-league players earning more than what we’re allowed to offer. That’s a fact.

“Paul Konchesky was earning more for Billericay. Now we are playing in League One and have got to offer less than that. So who do they want us to bring in? What level do you want us to bring in? It’s not right."

Yet Bowyer's reputation as one of the best young managers in the EFL means that, no matter how unlikely, no one will be in a rush to write his side off.

One to watch between now and then

Businessman Thomas Sandgaard, who has said he considered a move for Sunderland, looks to the club's best current hope of bringing some kind of stability at boardroom level.


In: Keshi Anderson (Swindon Town), Marvin Ekpiteta (Leyton Orient), Oliver Sarkic (Burton Albion), Jerry Yates (Rotherham United), CJ Hamilton (Mansfield Town), Ethan Robson (Sunderland)

Out: Ryan Hardie (Plymouth Argyle - loan), Ryan Edwards (Dundee United), Nathan Delfouneso (Bolton), Calum McDonald (Tranmere Rovers, loan)

Released: Myles Boney, Yusifu Ceesay, Armand Gnanduillet, Sean Graham, Mark Howard, Chris Mafoumbi, Sean Scannell, Owen Watkinson

Blackpool have high ambitions for the current season.

They invested significantly in the January window, before Simon Grayson's departure a matter of weeks later.

Under new head coach Neil Critchley it has been another busy summer, and the addition of Ethan Robson from Sunderland is one that has most caught the eye.

With much of their business done early, they have also had plenty of time to settle during the pre-season period.