As we slowly move ever closer to normality, we have another season in League 1 to endure, so here’s a guide to each and every one of our opponents this coming season…
We’re doing this in two parts by the way…
A team we have become rather familiar with over the last two seasons we’ve been in English football’s third tier, playing the Lancashire side no less than five times, including the now infamous trip to the Crown Ground in December 2018, which was abandoned after 80 minutes due to heavy rainfall. With the smallest ground in League 1 at just over 5000 capacity, it is a canny day out and there’s a few pubs around about for travelling supporters, not that we usually get a huge allocation but it was enough to break their attendance record on our first visit. John Coleman’s men finished 17th last season, after the average points total was applied, meaning they finished 5 points ahead of relegated Tranmere Rovers, they’re a side which can be tough to play and certainly rose to the challenge on their only visit to the Stadium of Light to date, holding Jack Ross’ men to a 2-2 draw last Spring.
We play them on: 29/12/20 (H), 24/04/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 17th
The club which is a phoenix from the ashes of the original Wimbledon FC, they’ve risen all the way from the very bottom in just a few years, with almost consecutive promotions to get to this level. They’ve previously played their home games at Kingsmeadow, the home of Chelsea Ladies but are now hopeful to move into the new 9000+ capacity stadium which is on track for completion later this summer. The new ground will obviously be a first for Sunderland fans, providing away fans are allowed into grounds by the time we are scheduled to play the Dons. From past experience, AFC Wimbledon have been a tough, physical side who are good in the air and have a proven system, despite that, they finished just three points above the drop and have yet to beat Sunderland, with the Black Cats winning all three encounters, including that last gasp brace from Lee Cattermole at the start of the 2018/19 season in London. I personally cannot see AFC Wimbledon surviving another season at this level, but stranger things have happened!
We play them on: 15/12/20 (H), 16/01/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 20th
A favourite away trip for Sunderland fans to the seaside club but the excitement of travelling across the Pennines to Bloomfield Road was dampened this year when less than 24 hours before we were due to set off across the A66, football was suspended due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Sunderland do remain unbeaten against the Tangerines, drawing twice and winning once, that being a 1-0 victory at Bloomfield on New Year’s Day which saw nearly 10,000 Mackems travel to the North West coast to turn Blackpool red and white. Last season, Blackpool finished as a solid mid table side, near enough averaging a point per game, they’re a decent enough side but a team I cannot see challenging for the play-offs, although like I said previously this is one of the most unpredictable divisions in football in terms of teams, results, players and just about everything else.
We play them on: 10/10/20 (H), 17/04/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 13th
One of the longer trips for fans this season, the Memorial Ground is one of the few with a standing terrace for visiting supporters, but it is open air, although there is a seating area which is covered from the elements. This was the last team we played before we were locked down and that was a 2-0 defeat in a rearranged league fixture midweek with both goals coming from Jonson Clarke-Harris. We’ve had a fair showing though in our other encounters in Avon, including a 2-0 victory in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final in 2019 with goals from Will Grigg and on loan Celtic winger Lewis Morgan. We have won all three other league encounters against The Pirates, including one of our best results under Phil Parkinson, a 3-0 win in February this year with goals coming from Lyndon Gooch, Charlie Wyke and Luke O’Nien.
We play them on: 12/09/20 (H), 27/03/20 (A)
Last season they finished: 14th
Always a decent ground to visit and one of my personal favourites, mainly because of how new the Pirelli Stadium is and how they’ve still included a traditional standing terrace, where the vast majority of the away fans are housed. The East Midlands was setting for a rare win in the abysmal Championship season three years ago, with George Honeyman and James Vaughan netting in a 2-0 win in one of Chris Coleman’s first games in charge. Last season, the Brewers finished smack bang mid table in 12th position but don’t currently have a manager in the sense of the word as captain Jake Buxton is currently acting as player manager following the resignation of Nigel Clough in May due to cost cutting measures and financial uncertainty. Not only that, Albion will be without one of their standout players from the last campaign, Jamie Murphy, who returned to Rangers following a loan spell.
We play them on: 01/12/20 (H), 20/02/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 12th
As we enter our third consecutive season in League 1, Charlton drop back down after being promoted via the play-off final, beating us 2-1 at Wembley, in what now seems years ago! They have a decent squad and nearly swept to safety in the Championship, being relegated at a deficit of just one point, and having a slightly better goal difference than they nearest rival, Barnsley. They managed by former Newcastle midfielder Lee Bowyer who has took them both to and from the Championship, being in The Valley hotseat for two years now, however they have lost former Sunderland transfer target and their top scorer, Lyle Taylor who departed South London on a free transfer to Nottingham Forest.
We play them on: 03/10/20 (A), 10/04/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 22nd (Championship)
The first newly promoted side from League 2 in this list of opponents, Crewe are managed by former Gibraltarian International (!) David Artell who received the League’s manager of the year award after leading his side to promotion in second place level points with the champions despite having a better goal difference than Swindon Town but the Robins had a better points per game score, securing the league title. This will be new ground for myself personally, a one I’m quite looking forward to, Sunderland haven’t played Crewe since March 2005 which saw a 1-0 win for Mick McCarthy’s side after a late winner from substitute Stephen Elliott. Only time will tell how the newcomers will flair this season, last season’s promoted clubs, one didn’t even kick a ball (Bury), one was relegated (Tranmere) and two finished mid table comfortably (Lincoln and MK Dons).
We play them on: 20/10/20 (H), 27/02/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 2nd (League 2)
A favourite for away trips, mainly due to the short distance down the A1 to Yorkshire and the fact we usually get a generous allocation, we’ve came away from the Keepmoat in fairly good spirits on our last couple of visits. The last time we travelled there was just after Christmas 2019 which saw the beginning of a fantastic run of form for Phil Parkinson’s men. Lyndon Gooch and Chris Maguire got on the score sheet last December but the lads were held to a 0-0 draw at the reverse fixture the following month. Last season, former WBA Head Coach, Darren Moore led Donny to a 9th place finish, 5 points adrift of us. This season they’ll definitely be pushing for the play-offs, if not promotion, they have a more than capable squad which will be hungry to make progress and make a long-awaited return to the second tier.
We play them on: 21/11/20 (A), 13/02/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 9th
Managed by the man who everyone loves to hate, Joey Barton, the former Newcastle midfielder guided The Trawlermen to the play-offs last season where his side lost were hammered 4-1 at home by eventual winners Wycombe Wanderers. A solid enough side who like to play physical and are guaranteed to give us a hard time no matter when or where we play them – we’ve never actually defeat the Lancashire club since meeting them for the very first time in our history in September 2018, a game where Jon McLaughlin saved Paddy Madden’s spot kick in a 1-1 draw. A trip to Fleetwood is always a decent one, even if we have a poor but short track record at the Highbury Stadium, another ground with a traditional standing terrace behind the sticks for away fans to enjoy and with Blackpool just along the road there’s always plenty to do pre and post-match. We will also be taking on Barton’s men in the EFL Trophy group stages, as well as Carlisle United and an invited youth academy team.
We play them on: 24/11/20 (A), 23/02/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 6th
One of the furthest teams to play away against, based down in Kent, the Gills are a fairly unimpressive mid-table outfit who have been a stumbling block for the lads in the past, it all started well in 2018 against them when we travelled for a midweek clash at Priestfield despite going 1-0 down, goals from Chris Maguire, George Honeyman, Max Power and Josh Maja sealed the deal. Later that season we thrashed Steve Lovell’s men 4-2 in the reverse fixture but we’ve had no luck since then, with the two defeats and two draws since then, including an away defeat which saw us dumped out of last season’s FA Cup after a 1-1 draw on home turf. Since being under the stewardship of former Peterborough boss Steve Evans, they’re looking like they may improve on last season’s impressive finish.
We play them on: 31/10/20 (A), 30/01/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 10th
A team most SAFC fans will be more than familiar with, even though we’ve not took on the Tigers since our disastrous Championship campaign, however, that game was somewhat a beacon of hope for Chris Coleman’s men as Joel Asoro netted his first professional goal in a 1-0 win at the SoL. A trip to Humberside is a favourite also with Sunderland fans travelling down there in their numbers to the KCOM Stadium, and although not that much of an impressive ground, we usually get a fair sized allocation and we hopefully will this time round depending on COVID restrictions. Hull’s fall from grace from the Premier League and defeating us in the FA Cup quarter-final in 2014, where they were defeated at Wembley by Arsenal in the final, hasn’t quite been as dramatic and as spectacular as our own but they now join us in English football’s third tier following a poor Championship campaign, led by Grant McCann which saw them equal their all-time heaviest deficit in an 8-0 loss to fellow relegated side Wigan Athletic. Hull came down as the basement club and McCann looks set to take them into the League 1 season with former Sunderland skipper George Honeyman running their midfield, we’ll also be hosting them on 5th September, our first competitive game back at the Stadium of Light in the Carabao Cup 1st round.
We play them on: 26/12/20 (H), 20/04/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 24th (Championship)
A former UEFA Cup winner, managed by the great Bobby Robson, they’ve also come a long way down since then, although that was 1981! Nevertheless, the Tractor Boys were a Premier League club less than two decades ago and since then, a solid Championship side who occasionally battled for promotion under former Sunderland gaffers Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy. Now they’ve fallen into League One, they look like they may be here for a while despite being favourite for promotion last season, Paul Lambert’s men finished smack bang in the middle of the division. Another long away trip down to East Anglia, it was our first excursion last season, ending in a 1-1 draw thanks to an equaliser from Lyndon Gooch following a poor all round performance from the lads.
We play them on: 03/11/20 (H), 26/01/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 11th