Sunderland have not felt a visible hangover from last season at all, Tony Mowbray’s Black Cats coming unstuck against Luton Town in the Championship Playoff Semi-Finals in disappointing fashion with the intense occasion of a second leg at Kenilworth Road too much for his group of players to cope with.
This disappointment hasn’t seeped into the new campaign, however, a youthful and energetic Sunderland side straight out of the traps and ready to go again this season with positive displays.
Mowbray’s promotion-chasing hopefuls occupy sixth spot after 16 games played so far, intent on sticking it out in and around the playoff spots until the regular 46-game season is up in a bid to finally win promotion back to the top-flight and exorcise those lingering Luton demons once and for all.
Players such as Jack Clarke and Dan Neil will continue to be vital in their hopes of achieving just that, Clarke already scoring nine times this season whilst Neil’s relentless energy helps the Black Cats tick through the middle of the park.
Yet, there are some underperformers in Mowbray’s side at the moment who will be anxious that their first team opportunities will come to an end soon.
The Sunderland manager might well have to display some ruthlessness in the months to come as a result, axing those who fail to perform when push comes to shove.
Here are three players who take up 10% of the club’s wage bill that could see their first-team minutes cut at the Stadium of Light…
Now 30 years of age, the ex Huddersfield Town midfielder in Alex Pritchard can still provide some creative flair centrally for the Black Cats but Mowbray could be tempted to switch out his number 21 for a younger and fresher option in the long term.
Pritchard’s case for retaining his starting spot won’t have been helped by Adil Aouchiche’s impactful cameo last time out against Birmingham City – the 21-year-old French midfielder scoring within two minutes of being introduced into the contest, helping his team secure a 3-1 win to bat away any potential nerves late into the game.
With Mowbray preferring to utilise youth, the £7k-per-week Pritchard could be dropped out of the first team soon. His goal contributions have been lacking as well this campaign so far, yet to open his goalscoring account with only two assists in total from 13 appearances.
Another senior member of the group – going into his third successive campaign with the Black Cats this season – Patrick Roberts might well have similar worries to Pritchard that his starting spot could be snatched by a promising youngster soon.
The 26-year-old hasn’t quite reached the heights of Clarke down the opposite flank, only managing one assist from 16 appearances and scoring zero times.
It could see Mowbray tinker with his squad to find a new entity to play at right wing, even pushing standout defender Niall Huggins further forward to play at right midfield instead of playing at the back.
Trai Hume could then switch over to right-back to fill in for Huggins, the £7k-per-week Roberts wary that he could face the chop at the Stadium of Light and fall down the pecking order.
Despite still being a new kid on the block – 20-year-old Seelt joining Sunderland from PSV Eindhoven this summer – could be the third and final player dropped potentially by Mowbray when games towards the latter stages of the season hang on a knife’s edge.
Luke O’Nien will likely displace the Dutch export when he’s back to full fitness, O’Nien a crucial figure Mowbray relied on last season with far more experience of EFL football than the 20-year-old.
The former PSV youngster – who earns just £3k-per-week – has also underwhelmed in contests this season, particularly in the 4-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough. The 6 foot 4 centre-back won none of his two aerial duels on the day as per Sofascore, Michael Carrick’s men running rampant at the expense of Seelt.
Sunderland’s new number 23 will more than likely make up the numbers on the bench for the Black Cats down the line, especially when O’Nien is back and ready for first-team action again.