Following a dire Premier League campaign that saw them relegated from the Premier League without a fight under the insipid management style of David Moyes, Sunderland are very much a club in need of cheer. Their departure from the top division also meant that they lost Jermain Defoe on a free transfer – he was their one shining light in a season otherwise devoid of job, promise and attacking intent.
If anything, the clean break of both Moyes and their over-reliance on Defoe should give the Black Cats a chance to start afresh as they look to get promotion at the first time of asking under Simon Grayson. The former Leeds United manager is an unspectacular if experienced Championship campaigner and will know the type of players that are required at this level. So far he has made seven permanent or loan signings, though it remains to be seen if Robbin Ruiter and Jason Steele will offer the requisite quality to replace Jordan Pickford, who moved to Everton.
Their fixture on Friday against Derby County at the Stadium of Light – on the opening night of the competition – will be a good test of their quality given that County finished ninth last season and are aiming, like Sunderland, for a promotion push in the coming months. In Gary Rowett, who replaced Steve McClaren for the final nine games of 2016/17, they have an exciting forward-thinking manager, so the result in the North East could well have implications for which side, if either of them, are able to push for a top-six finish.
Neither side is rated highly in the odds for the Championship title, however. Tipbet have Middlesbrough, who were also recently relegated, as 6.75 favourites ahead of Aston Villa (7.75) and Fulham (8.50). The odds for this opener, though, are close. Sunderland are 2.60 to start with three points, though Derby would see a draw (3.20) or away win, at 2.85, as a strong starting point to the season. There are 63 markets offered.