With a season in League One on the horizon for Sunderland, and a fresh sense of positivity and direction throughout the club thanks to the takeover, we look at the 23 teams we will be competing against next season. Who knows what to expect? Here’s the first six teams we’ll be facing, in alphabetical order…
Accrington Stanley, who are they? Well. They won League Two last season, reaching League One for the first time in the club’s 50-year history. Manager John Coleman is in his second stint with Accrington Stanley. He spent twelve and a half years as manager from 1999 to 2012, making him the third longest reigning manager in England behind Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. He returned in 2014 and is their longest serving manager. Sunderland fans can look forward to an away day at the Crown Ground, the 5,057 capacity stadium, which emphasises the difference between the two clubs.
Resurrected by supporters in 2002, after the owners decided to move and change their name to MK Dons, AFC Wimbledon have climbed up the football pyramid and as of 2018, find themselves in the third tier of English football. They finished 18th last season, as they watched MK Dons drop to League Two, something which is a real achievement for the 16-year-old club. Their man in charge is Neal Ardley, and he has been since 2012. He played at Wimbledon FC for nine years until the reform in 2002. Ardley oversaw The Dons’ promotion to League One for the first time in their history in 2015, winning the play-offs. The club have remained there ever since, finishing 15th and 18th. We shouldn’t expect to be challenging them for promotion next season, but they will be hard to beat. They play at Kingsmeadow, which has a capacity of 4,850.
The first club on this list that we played last season, Barnsley come into League One after finishing 22nd in the Championship. They actually managed to get the double over us last season, which is no surprise when you take into account how shite we were. The Tykes play their football at Oakwell, which has a reasonable capacity of 23,009. They are going to be difficult to predict next season, they are still without a manager following the departure of Jose Morais after relegation. However, German manager Daniel Stendel is favourite to take over. They have had experience at this level and know what it takes to be promoted to the Championship, so I would expect Barnsley to be in and around the play off places next season.
Blackpool are one of the clubs on this list I have a soft spot for. The Tangerines have always stood out to me visually in their bright orange kit, and a family holiday to Blackpool every year as a kid introduced me to the club. Since their sole Premier League campaign in 2010/11, Blackpool have fallen off the wagon, spending time in the Championship, League One and League Two. Manager Gary Bowyer got them back into the third-tier, and last season led them to a 12th placed finish. Bloomfield Road is where they play their home games. The ground has a capacity of 17,338, so we should get a half decent allocation for that game at least.
Another club currently without a manager, Bradford, finished 11th in the league last season. So, everyone probably remembers Bradford for their stunning run to the League Cup final, back when they were in League Two. The Bantams have been consistent in the league since promotion in 2013 and will use that experience to hopefully mount a promotion push next season. Their ground, Valley Parade, has a capacity of 25,136, the highest on this list so far, which should see us sell out as many tickets as they give us. Former Barnsley and Leeds manager, Paul Heckingbottom, is the favourite to take over as new boss and this would be a very good appointment if it is to go through. Bradford should be looking for a promotion push next season and are one to look out for.
The sixth team on the list, Bristol Rovers finished 13th in League One last season and hopefully shouldn’t be too much trouble for Sunderland to get some points off, as long as we are up for the fight. Manager Darrell Clarke has been in charge since 2014 and he achieved back to back promotions in his first two seasons to get the club to League One. The club play at the Memorial Stadium, which has a reasonable capacity of 12,296. The team will be hoping to push on from their mid table finish last season, but I cannot see them finishing in the top half of the league…