The Wise Men Say 21-22 Season Predictions

The Wise Men Say team delve deep for their crystal balls and make their predictions for Sunderland's 21-22 season
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Melissa Johnson

What you are reading is likely and hopefully redundant considering the signings required so take back 30 seconds of your day if you so wish. If not, strap yourself in for the return of the loud sighs lingering in the back streets of Sunderland. 

Our 30+ top goalscorer from last season has toddled off and hasn’t been replaced whilst we continue to be riddled with injury in key positions and planning to paper over cracks with anyone slightly capable all over again. I’m talking like everyone isn’t glaringly aware of the problems but hey, it isn’t like it’s three days until the start of the new season… 

As worrying and stomach-churning as this is, I’m going to clutch at straws and bring some positivity to proceedings. Firstly, we have seen first-hand the damage that comes with spunking away money on below average and unenthused players so actually, in not signing pretty much no one, we have avoided that custard pie. 

Luke O’Nien signed a new contract and his smile could launch a thousand ships and it also helps that there are a lot of rubbish teams in League One. 

Most importantly though, through rain, shine, flat pints and balti pies; for the first time in 518 days, we will be sharing the pains, air punches and eye rolls together again. 

At this stage it’s like a lottery in what we will produce. The difference in success between primetime This Time and eating Toblerone while driving to Dundee in your bare feet. Let’s be honest though, no matter the outcome, we will all still be daft enough to keep going. 

Predicted finish: 5th
Player to watch: Ross Stewart

Craig Clark

This is the least confident I’ve felt heading into a season since relegation to League 1. Most of the players too good for the level have moved on, as have many promising academy products. While Elliot Embleton, Dan Neil, Callum Doyle, and Ross Stewart could form the exciting young spine of a side that has played some promising attacking football throughout pre-season, much uncertainty remains.

At the time of writing, the club is without a senior full-back and is an injury away from crisis in most other positions. Based on the current situation, the D3D4 podcast prediction of a 10th place finish is grimly plausible. If, however, the much-vaunted data driven recruitment process starts bearing fruit, the more optimistic Not The Top Twenty podcast forecast of 3rd could just as easily be realised.

It’s a tough one to call, but I’ll take us to make the playoffs. Just.  

Predicted league finish: 6th
Player to watch: Elliot Embleton

Jimmy Reay

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is an oft-used phrase which I personally find hard to believe wasn’t written directly about Sunderland AFC.

As we near the beginning of our fourth season at League One level with our third (permanent) manager, second majority shareholder and a whole host of new and nearly new bodies behind the scenes (welcome David Preece, by the way – great appointment as GK coach); you’d be forgiven for thinking things must be on the move. However, a lot of what’s happening this preseason is all too familiar.

In fact, this is the least confident many have been at our chances of promotion so far. Another year of leaving business until late in the window is particularly galling given the new vision, data-driven approach and confident outlook we’ve been sold. Seemingly starting the new season without a senior first team fullback on the books isn’t just galling, it’s quite frankly bizarre and certainly a huge red flag to a fanbase already scarred and rightfully wary of words before actions from up-top.

Having said all that, there are positives too. The first-team signings we have made (plus a fair few of the players we already had) are either proven to be good (and excellent in a couple of cases) performers at this level, or certainly indicate they have what it takes to be. Couple that with the vast majority of sides at this level really not being very good either (that’s with summer business taken into account too – we’ve seen this all before, too), and that there is (rightly or wrongly) ample time left before the window shuts to get the right targets in, and it’s not all bad. 

How we fare in the short term is more of a worry to me but I’m a natural positive when it comes to Sunderland (no, I don’t know why either) so I just can’t find it in me to have too negative a view before a ball has been kicked.

Predicted finish: 2nd
Player to watch: Ross Stewart

Tom Walsh

Not even the most optimistic Sunderland supporter could look at this summer’s transfer activity and think “this is fine”.

The club have, correctly, let a raft of first team players leave but have been painfully slow to find adequate replacements while our league rivals are seemingly sweeping up all the available talent. While there have been promising signs in pre-season from the likes of Callum Doyle, Elliot Embleton and glimpses from Ross Stewart, it does not disguise the gaping holes in the squad.

We enter a fourth successive season in League One still playing midfielders at full back, still without variety in attack and still without a settled defence. Coupled with Lee Johnson’s penchant for streaky form it could prove to be a very long, dismal campaign. The only caveat to that being that League One is notoriously full of terrible teams so we’ll hover around the top six by default.

Predicted league finish: 7th
Player to watch: Elliot Embleton

Richard Easterbrook

After a year and a half of watching Sunderland through a jittery stream which resulted in severe motion sickness every week, you’d think I would be absolutely champing at the bit to get back into the Stadium of Light, to grab a drip stand, insert the cannula into my wrist and to mainline League One right into my veins all over again.

Yes, we may no longer have to question whether the feed was buffering or that Conor McLaughlin was just that slow and no longer will we be treated to those glorious low-rent half time adverts where our title sponsors would use Paul McKenna era hypnosis methods to UNLOCK YOUR BUSINESS GOALS.

The reality is, though, I’m not excited about going back. This close season has been the most underwhelming summer since the Sunderland Echo teased a huge signing that turned out to be the corpse of Phil Babb in 2002. And look how that ended!

If a Bob Murray, or an Ellis Short, or a Tom Cowie for those with longer memories, presided over what has gone on here over the last few weeks, then there’d be Sunderland fans with pitchforks camped outside the Stadium of Light. But there appear to be a pocket of largely anonymous fans with weird handles on Twitter who think that this is all great and that binning off players that brought in 62 goals in all competitions last season and replacing them with, at the time of writing, zero goals, is a good thing.

It’s not a good thing. It’s really concerning. And I’m sure that in time, probably too late, we’ll bring those players in and, because it’s League One, we’ll win more than we lose, but, again, I can’t get excited. Not yet.

Predicted finish: 5th
Player to watch: Callum Doyle

Michael Lough

In a matter of days we kick off our most important season since…well last season and my optimism levels are equally as low as they were at the start of last season. Every year spent in League One is a further embarrassment to everyone connected with the club, but at least the squad is in cracking shape and ready to hit the ground running, yeah? Never mind.

Cynicism aside, I’ve been quite encouraged by what I’ve seen this pre-season, performances have been good in spells and we are seeing a much better implementation of Lee Johnson’s preferred style of play. Ross Stewart looks sharp, Elliot Embleton has been superb and Callum Doyle has all the tools to be an excellent centre half at this level but our lack of defensive options remain a huge concern and unless we have a brilliant end to the transfer window we are a few injuries/results away from a crisis.

Prediction: 8th
Player to watch: Callum Doyle

Matt Wilson

Ah, this again. A summer of beautiful distractions comes to end and it’s time, instead, to stare a fourth season of League One football in its stupid face. Compared to the start of last season I think we’ve got a better manager but, barring a late flurry of quality signings, a weaker squad.

The full-back area is, well… we haven’t got any full-backs, while up front it’s hard to lose 30+ goals from your squad, not bring in a replacement, and still expect to compete at the upper end of the table. In previous seasons we’ve gone for players with plenty of League One and Championship experience and granted that hasn’t worked, so on the face of it a change of approach is welcome.

We’re putting a lot of faith in the likes of Stewart, Doyle, Neil and Embleton but as a supporter I’m struggling to have much faith in this squad to get out of this division.

Predicted league finish: 6th
Player to watch: Elliot Embleton 

Graeme Atkinson

At the end of last season it was evident that the squad required a summer reset and rebuild. Worryingly, this overhaul hasn’t yet materialised.

I can absolutely get behind the club asking for patience in signing the right type of player. However, this summer wasn’t about bringing in 4 or 5 players to strengthen the existing quality. We’re in the midst of a full on reconstruction. Or we’re supposed to be.

Arguably, the club was always going to be prey to clubs with a stronger bargaining position simply waiting us out. This didn’t mean throwing silly money around but it should have meant spending a bit more to get deals quickly over the line in key areas. Yet here we are entering the season without any senior full-backs and haven’t yet replaced a 30 plus goal striker. A staggering- but unsurprising – position for Sunderland to be in.

The positives? Elliot Embleton looks ready to be unleashed and Callum Doyle seems a genuine prospect even at his young age. But the threadbare squad means Lee Johnson deserves more time to steady the ship after last season’s collapse. 

Predicted finish: 6th
Player to watch: Callum Doyle