I didn’t expect us to be in a playoff position at the start of the season. I didn’t even expect us to be in the top half. I didn’t think we would get relegated, by a long way, but 5th; considering that we were a team that finished err… 5th in League One, the season prior to this one - I’d have said no chance!
We have more than matched up to opponents who are favourites to get promoted, only just losing against teams like Sheffield United and Norwich City, and beating those high flyers from Smogland on our own patch. We are well in the mix for promotion contenders. So should we go straight for glory, and get promoted second time on the bounce, or should we be patient, build our squad up even more over the next couple of seasons, and enter the big time then?
There is no reason why we can’t go for promotion this year. Our recruitment model has been brilliant this season, attracting young talent and intertwining it with the experienced heads of players like Danny Batth and Alex Pritchard. It has been such a long time before now that I felt comfortable with the way the club has been recruiting players. We are taking our time, applying data-driven research to scout the right ones. Look at young players like Dan Ballard, and promising prospects like Isaac Lihadji!
I know that everyone was annoyed at the board for not signing another striker with Rosco out for the rest of the season, but Speakman did admit that he tried to sign 4 strikers, and that the deals fell through. This may seem like a negative to some, but at least it shows that we are being cautious with signing the right players that fit our model, rather than signing some EFL journeyman up front like James Vaughan or Danny Graham. Taking this strategy forward, there is no reason why we can’t succeed in the Premier League…
According to data collected by “Total Football Analysis,” most teams have enjoyed success after being promoted from any division in the EFL; 75% survive in the league and a further 5.7% actually make back-to-back promotions. A number that Sunderland will hopefully add to at the end of this season!
However, there are some reasons as to why being promoted this season may not be a good idea. Further analysis shows that on average, teams who get promoted only last 3 seasons in the higher league. Moreover, surviving in the first season in that higher league becomes a harder prospect as you go up the football pyramid, meaning that it would be harder for a team like Sunderland to stay up in the top flight.
I do think that with a couple more seasons in the Championship, we could improve our squad significantly, to make it competitive in the Premier League. In order to create a competitive team in the top flight, you need money, and it could be suggested that it would be more sustainable to spend your money over a longer length of time, build your squad up, rather than splash the cash all in one go. We don’t want to end up being a Norwich or a West Brom, do we? Yoyo-ing between the leagues! Or even worse, end up like we did under Ellis Short!
Having said that, though, teams that get promoted to the PL do receive so much money, mainly through TV coverage with Sky, BT and Amazon Prime all having deals to show matches.
And if we did unfortunately get relegated, we would receive a safety net to avoid a financial disaster, with parachute payments giving us the best opportunity bouncing back first time; I mean look at how Burnley have recovered from relegation. They’re not too bad, are they?
I didn’t expect us to be in this position at the start of the season, and long may this form continue. Maybe if we did get promoted, the team would defy my expectations again?