Sunderland Must Find Killer Instinct to Return to the Championship Next Season

It was an awfully long journey back to Wearside for the Sunderland fans who had made the trip to Wembley. The Black Cats’ poor record at the national stadium continued courtesy of a last-gasp defeat to Charlton Athletic, and Jack Ross’ men have been condemned to a second successive season in the third tier. The Scot is likely to be given the benefit of the doubt by the Sunderland board this summer, but he must find a way of improving his side’s attacking output next year.

The men from the North East made an ideal start to the League One Play-Off final, with Naby Sarr’s untimely error gifting Sunderland a fifth-minute lead, as reported by The Sun. Charlton roared back with a rare Ben Purrington strike, and the game looked to be heading towards extra time before Patrick Bauer scored his first goal of the season with a scruffy injury-time winner.

It was a significant blow for Stewart Donald and the Sunderland hierarchy, who were banking on returning to the Championship at the first time of asking, and it is likely to result in a huge turnover of personnel this summer. Despite scoring 80 goals in League One this season, the general consensus amongst Sunderland supporters is that their side was far too wasteful in the final third. They were unable to capitalise upon a shaky start from the Addicks, and critics have suggested that Jack Ross’ men should have killed the game off during the period in which Charlton were struggling to find their feet.

Their 1-1 draw against the Addicks in January was yet another example of the club failing to build upon a fast start, as reported by The Chronicle. Luke O’Nien’s second-minute strike gave them a platform to build upon, but they squandered the lead and dropped yet more points. Sunderland drew 19 of their 43 League One matches this season, and dropped points against relegated duo Walsall and Scunthorpe. 15 of those stalemates ended 1-1, and Jack Ross’ side scored two or more goals on just nine occasions since the turn of the year.

Charlie Wyke started against Charlton, but he was marked out of the game by Patrick Bauer, whilst second-half substitute Will Grigg looked off the pace once again. He’s scored just five times since joining the club from Wigan at the end of January, and better will be expected from the Northern Irishman next season. With a combined fee of around £3.6 million, the two strikers have almost certainly underperformed this campaign, and Jack Ross must find a way of getting the best out of his two frontmen.

The former St Mirren boss must ensure that his side get off to a fast start in August, and he will be determined to quickly draw a line under their Wembley disappointment. Losing play-off finalists do have the habit of bouncing back, with Aston Villa the latest side to make it second time lucky in the end-of-season spectacle. The Villans were amongst the Bank Holiday Monday tips at Betfair and managed to justify their relatively short-price by beating Derby 2-1 to clinch their return to the top flight.

With promoted duo Lincoln and Tranmere likely to be tough opposition next season, League One will be a suitably competitive division once more, and it is absolutely imperative that Sunderland strike the right balance going forward. The Black Cats have looked toothless at times, and Jack Ross must ensure that this iconic club returns to the second tier as soon as possible.