The seven crucial questions Sunderland must consider after League One campaign ends in devastating defeat

Sunderland’s heartbreaking defeat to Charlton Athletic will remain raw for some time yet.

By Phil Smith
Sunday, 26 May, 2019, 23:20
Sunderland fell to another Wembley defeat against Charlton Athletic

But with pre-season not much longer than a month away, time is of the essence if the Black Cats are to bounce back.

The club will have to move quickly to ensure they can hit the ground running in August.

Will potential investment be in the club be affected by defeat?

On the eve of the game, Charlie Methven said that the club would be able to move quickly in confirming additional investment.

That is, should they win.

It did not go unnoticed that American stockbroker Mark Campbell was sat in the royal box alongside the Sunderland ownership.

Campbell was linked with an investment deal a few weeks ago. It was said that he would be keen to install John Park as Director of Football.

It goes without saying that such a move would trigger another summer of overhaul and change at the Academy of Light.

If that is to happen, it needs to happen quickly.

The reasons for Sunderland’s eventual failure were myriad but they were not helped by being forced to play catch up in the transfer market again; having a mere shell of a squad to begin the pre-season campaign.

If the Black Cats are to bounce back from this defeat, they have to move swiftly and efficiently.

The ownership structure must be settled quickly, allowing the football side of the club to assemble a side capable of climbing out of this brutal division.

Will the board be fully behind Jack Ross?

Ross signed a two-year deal last summer and has won praise from Methven and Stewart Donald over the course of the season for building a competitive side.

There was much work to do, but Ross assembled a side that proved difficult to beat and almost won immediate promotion to the Championship.

Assessing the campaign is a tricky business and depends on your expectations of what Sunderland should have achieved.

They had a big budget, yes, but a lopsided squad and a massive disparity in the profile of their players.

Ross has impressed with his relentless, methodical approach to management and his level-headed manner that has never wavered at any stage of the campaign.

It has been an often exhilarating season with much progress made.

Ultimately, though, Sunderland fell short.

They need stability but whatever the future for Ross, swift clarity is again essential.

What kind of side do Sunderland want to build?

An existential question but one that feels nevertheless vital for Sunderland.

Charlton were the better side on Sunday but it remains a season in which the Black Cats lost just six league games, two of those when their play-off fate was already sealed.

At Wembley they did not create enough and in the latter stages looked vulnerable to the high ball again.

Ross arrived with a reputation for attacking, high-intensity football but this season it has only been seen in fits and starts.

The Black Cats boss had to create a winning side from another turbulent summer and in patches they looked to be building something enjoyable to watch.

On their day, there were few sides in the league as effective at building up play, switching the ball out wide and getting dangerous wide players in promising positions.

When they did that, they looked like a side that was confident and difficult to stop.

It didn’t happen enough, and ultimately they are a side still trying to establish a real pattern of play and identity.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Determining what they want to achieve in that department will underpin summer recruitment and what comes next season.

Will players have to be moved on?

The Sunderland regime have insisted that financially, staying in League One is no disaster.

Revenue levels are good, particularly given the fact that season ticket renewals have once again been superb, over 20,000 already signed up.

So there is no immediate pressure to move on high-earning players.

Their future will nevertheless remain uncertain.

Bryan Oviedo will surely leave, his performances good at the end of the season but ultimately inconsistent over the course of the campaign.

With Denver Hume emerging, better value for money needs to be found in that department to rebalance the squad.

Elsewhere, the decisions are much tougher.

Aiden McGeady and Lee Cattermole have had excellent campaigns, leaders on and off the pitch.

How they see their futures remains unknown, but they would be big losses were they to depart.

Both are settled in the region and may be eager to avoid significant upheaval at this stage of their career.

It again raises the question of what side Sunderland want to build, and whether there is a desire to pivot towards a younger side with less onerous wage commitments.

A failure to seal promotion makes it seem almost certain that Adam Matthews will not be retained on his Premier League wage.

What are the key areas of the squad to improve?

Ross said post-match that he understood where the team needed to improve this summer.

A more consistent and robust defence is surely key, with partnerships regularly broken up over the course of this season.

More pace and another creative presence in central, attacking areas would be welcome, too.

What improvements need to be made off the pitch?

Ross has spoken regularly of his desire to improve the club’s structures off the pitch.

They were at ‘ground zero’ last summer and need to strengthen their scouting department, among other things.

This was a devastating defeat and the debate about where Sunderland need to improve cannot be solely about the playing squad, no matter how important that may be.

Can more younger players be brought into the fold?

Sunderland have had a big squad this season, particularly after a January window in which they looked to compensate for the depature of Josh Maja.

If Ross is in charge then it seems likely that he will want to work with a smaller group.

It will leave some big decisions for the manager to make and it will be interesting to see, particularly in midfield, whether there is a future for some of the academy’s most talented products.

Elliot Embleton starred for Grimsby on loan this season but is yet to sign a new contract.

Ethan Robson has a year to run on his deal but has spent the second half of the season on loan at Dundee.

Could an injection of youth add the energy this side perhaps needs, and strengthen the identity of the side?

This may not be the biggest question for Sunderland right now but it is an important one nevertheless.