WHEN Sunderland and Hull City meet at the KCOM Stadium this afternoon, they will do so as two clubs still trying to come to terms with the new reality of life in the Championship.

Relegated from the Premier League together at the end of last season, they are currently separated by just two points in the bottom half of the Championship table.

Twenty-hours after Sunderland suffered a 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest in midweek, Hull went down 2-1 at Fulham. The game before, they were thumped 5-0 at Derby County.

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Both clubs have lost a number of their leading players, both have been forced to make cut-price additions in the transfer market in an attempt to plug the gaps. The history books prove how tough it is to make an immediate return to the Premier League, but living through the transition from top-flight to Championship can still be a tortuous task.

“It’s the hardest change you have to make in football,” said Sunderland boss Simon Grayson, who has watched his side suffer four successive defeats. “Much harder than going up the other way.

“If you get promoted to the Premier League, then you’ve got momentum and money you’ve never had before. You can go and get better players, and the whole football club and city wherever you are is lifted and buoyant.

“Of the other side, when any team gets relegated, there’s a negativity. That’s true of any division, but especially when you come out of the top division because the change in revenue has massive effects.

“It’s probably worse when you’re talking about a club that’s been in the Premier League for a long time. We’ve been in for ten years, so it’s not as if this club has been up and down over that period and people have got used to that.

“It hasn’t happened for ten years, so people have to get used to it and have a sense of reality about where we are now. We have no divine right to be in the Premier League, and no divine right to be in the top two or top six in the Championship at the moment.”

No one expected the shift from top-flight to second tier to be easy, but there is still an understandable sense of frustration on Wearside about Sunderland’s position just one point clear of the relegation zone.

The same is true on Humberside, where Hull fans find themselves watching a side who have lost five of their last six matches in all competitions.

The extent of the summer upheaval at both clubs was considerable, with a change of manager heralding a radical reshaping of the respective squads. It also telling that both clubs are owned by businessmen who have made no secret of their desire to sell their controlling stake, but who have so far been unable to find a buyer willing to meet their asking price.

“There are a number of reasons why the transition is difficult, but probably the biggest is that there is such a big changeover,” said Grayson. “It’s very rare that a relegated club keeps the majority of its best players. It’s a time where your best players tend to leave to balance the books because there’s a big loss of revenue in many different areas.

“It takes time for everybody to adjust to it, supporters as well. If you look back at history, there aren’t too many teams that win promotion at the first time of asking. Newcastle obviously did it last year, but it’s quite rare.

“There are a lot of big clubs who have come out of the Premier League and found it difficult. Just look at Aston Villa, who are down with us. They’re a big football club, and there are other big names who don’t have a right to go straight back up.

“We have to work hard, and you have to do whatever is required. Everybody needs time to adjust, but the ultimate goal is obviously to get promotion. That’s the same for us and Hull, or any team that’s come out of the Premier League.”

Sunderland’s relegation came after a decade of top-flight existence, but the latter half of that spell was characterised by a series of gruelling battles against the drop.

That eventually takes a toll, and for all that Grayson is keen to draw a line under the past, Sunderland’s current struggles feed into a narrative of long-term strife.

The club has been on a downward spiral for quite a while now, so while this might be a new group of players with only a limited link to the past, it is impossible for them to avoid the ravages of Sunderland’s recent history.

“It’s going to be brought up,” said Grayson. “But that’s why I’m trying to be very clear with the supporters about what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be open and positive, and relay the message that it’s about what we do going forward.

“You can never take away what’s happened in the past at any club, the good times and the bad, but ultimately it’s what you do in the future that counts. That’s why we all have to stay patient and not show too much frustration because, ultimately, we all want the same thing.”