By Damon De Rees
So I'm nervous about the upcoming season, I'll admit it.
I'm nervous about our finishing position in the table. I'm nervous that the mercurial Alex Neil will be poached by another club when the inevitable managerial sacking season begins and recently I've become very nervous that 90% of our home games will be interrupted by Pokemon Go related pitch invasions.
A quick glance at the fixture list for this Championship season sees a plethora of teams that have experienced the upper echelons of the Football League.
In fact, 17 of the 24 teams in we will face this season have competed in the Premier League. The team we open against have even won it.
That’s a lot of experience and a lot of know how.
Burton Albion are perhaps the biggest exception. They began to flirt with the Football League for the first time in 2009, but we'd be foolish to rule even these, the most obvious of underdogs out as competition. Or any team for that matter.
The league we find ourselves in is not a league of novices and semi-professional Gibraltan teams, absolutely not. It’s a collection of direct threats to our ambitions of promotion.
Leicester proved last season that any dog can have its day and there will be 23 other teams that want promotion as much as we do, make no mistake. Realise this too late and we have ourselves a full blown Leeds situation: A brilliantly supported team, destined for mid table mediocrity.
The argument that we have no divine right to immediate promotion is one I have almost daily with fellow City fans. Often resulting in a growled, “You know nothing” that Jon Snow himself would quiver at. The Game of Thrones character. Not the Channel 4 news presenter. Maybe both – it's pretty damn intimidating.
A strong start feels important to our potential promotion campaign. And it's not because without a strong start a season is doomed to fail. That's statistically not true. It feels important because it would go a hell of a long way towards restoring some lost confidence and optimism to the club and the fans.
If you're thinking that my “statistically not true” line is bull: it took Burnley 4 games before they recorded their first win last season, picking up 2 draws and a loss (to Ipswich) before doing so. Imagine the mass hysteria that would spread through the stands if we found ourselves in the same position come August 21.
Before that, Reading have won the Championship, accumulating over 100 points in the process, having lost 4-0 on the opening day. It’s even happened to us, losing 4-0 at Millwall on the opening day before reaching the less enjoyable of our two Play Off finals.
A good start then is not historically important, but it would set the tone in the stands and the dugout.
Picture the scene: It's a brisk November. Sunderland have just sacked their 8th manager this campaign. They may be 19th in the Premier League, but they have money to burn and a track record of giving somewhat inexperienced yet charismatic managers a chance (see Gus Poyet and Paulo Di Canio).
We're languishing in 10th and Alex Neil starts to wonder how long it's going to take before he becomes a forgotten man and his star begins to fall. Maybe he could call Michael Laudrup who has gone from lauded Premier League manager to working as a pundit for Viasat's TV3 in about the same time Michu went from Premier League top scorer and full Spanish international to turning out for the amateurs UP Langreo.
Now you might read the above and scoff at the notion of Sunderland being that gung-ho with their top brass. Admittedly 8 managers in a season is an exaggeration. 8 managers in 6 years isn't though. But this isn't about Sunderland and their seemingly constant managerial merry go round. This is about highlighting how easy our foundations could start to crack if the campaign doesn't go to plan. An average season based on our expectations, coupled with a poor season from a more alluring team than Norwich could lead to a serious maelstrom. A maelstrom that sweeps Alex Neil away and takes our season along with it.
The question needs to be asked, just how long would he want to stay should the boat begin to rock?
Just as there's reason to be dubious about our future fortune, there are still reasons for optimism. It's not all negativity.
Yes, there are a lot of decent quality teams in the Championship, but what a majority lack is a manager who knows how to get out of it. We have this manager. Of course there are teams that have such a manager within their ranks, as we do, but they may not have the requisite quality and experience throughout the squad that we do, especially with Timm Klose happy to stick around for a year. Put those together and there's definite potential for success.
If only it was that simple.
Granted there is a twang of pessimism to my words. I'm sure we have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Just as I'm sure the Czech giants Dukla Prague more than deserved their comprehensive 3-1 victory.
Maybe it's a case of bringing the worst case scenarios to life so that if, or when, they happen, it doesn't hurt so much. But, I'm not so sure that will be the case. If I tune in to Match of the Day on December 3rd only to see Alex Neil donning a Black Cats tracksuit while we feature on Channel 5's Football League Tonight, mid card, trying to consolidate 10th position. It'd still hurt.