‘A memorable afternoon at Deepdale #OnThisDay in 2023’, read Sunderland’s post on ‘X’ on Wednesday.

The accompanying video showed the three glorious goals scored by Amad, Alex Pritchard, and Jack Clarke, as the Black Cats put Preston to the sword on a memorable final day last season to clinch a place in the Championship play-offs.

The contrast between the joyous celebrations in the away end that day, and the mood of disappointment, anger, and frustration around the Stadium of Light last weekend as this season finally fizzled out with a 2-0 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday - Sunderland’s 11th home defeat of the season, more than any other team in the division - could hardly be greater.

The swashbuckling, attacking, attractive, football that thrilled fans last season had long since given way to a diet of slow, monotonous, turgid, bore-ball that has sapped the soul since the turn of the year.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland reached the play-offs on the final day of the 2022-23 season with a final day win over Preston North EndSunderland reached the play-offs on the final day of the 2022-23 season with a final day win over Preston North End (Image: Ian Horrocks)


SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE: Win a pair of Black Cats Bar season tickets for Sunderland's 2024/25 campaign


Sixth place last term was traded for 16th, which left the Black Cats just six points above the relegation zone.

Thousands of Sunderland fans left before the final whistle sounded against the Owls, with many only sticking it out as long as the 87th minute so they could pay tribute to club legend Charlie Hurley, rather than hang around for the empty gesture of a ‘lap of appreciation’.

Afterwards, interim head coach Mike Dodds looked like a condemned man relieved that at last his time had come. The sooner the club appoints a permanent successor, the better.

It should not take too long, surely.

After all, sporting director Kristjaan Speakman last summer (when there was no head coach vacancy) talked up the club’s detailed and meticulous ‘succession planning’, and it is now almost three months since Michael Beale was sacked on February 19.

We Are Sunderland: Michael Beale was sacked after just 12 games in charge of SunderlandMichael Beale was sacked after just 12 games in charge of Sunderland (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Then again, the club’s rigorous succession plan delivered Beale in December, so perhaps we should be thankful that a little more thought has been given to the situation this time around.




The identity of the new head coach is the most high-profile and important, but by no means the only, big decision Sunderland must get right this summer.

After three successive poor transfer windows, the club’s recruitment will be under the microscope as never before.

The lack of experience within this squad has been acknowledged as a weakness that must be addressed, while key positions will have to be strengthened - and, if star players such as Jack Clarke, Dan Ballard, Dan Neil, and Anthony Patterson move on, they will also need to be replaced.

Judgements will have to be made about some of the players already at the club.

It is understood that Bradley Dack and Corry Evans will leave when their current contracts expire, and their departures will come as no surprise.

Sunderland have the option to convert Callum Styles’ loan spell from Barnsley into a permanent move, but so far there is no indication as to whether they will take it up.




And what of the players who have been farmed out on loan?

Jewison Bennette, Eliezer Mayenda, Nectar Triantis, Joe Anderson, Alex Bass, and Jay Matete, are among the players who have spent all or part of the season elsewhere.

Will any or all of them return to Wearside better players and Championship-ready? Will they be loaned out again? Or is it time for them to move on?

Costa Rica’s World Cup winger Bennette arrived at Sunderland two years ago but incredibly has yet to start a Championship game. Injury has restricted him to just two matches in the Greek Super League with Aris and he was subbed at half-time in both of those, so has he improved his prospects?

We Are Sunderland: Jewison Bennette was sent out on loan from Sunderland in January to the Greek Super LeagueJewison Bennette was sent out on loan from Sunderland in January to the Greek Super League (Image: Ian Horrocks)

How about the 16 (goalless) minutes Spanish striker Eliezer Mayenda played in the Scottish Premiership with Hibernian? He was given more gametime than that by Sunderland in the first half of the season.

At least defenders Triantis and Anderson, and goalkeeper Bass, have played regularly for Hibs, Shrewsbury Town, and AFC Wimbledon, respectively.

As for Matete, the midfielder missed the first half of Sunderland’s season with a knee injury and then, after joining Oxford United in January, managed only half-a-dozen appearances for the Us before his spell was cut short due to another knee problem which completed a wretched year for him.

Yes, some big decisions await. And the pressure is on.