AFTER years of constantly struggling to stay in the Premier League, Sunderland have a chance to enjoy something different this season.

If the Black Cats can avoid repeats of the performance that saw them hammered by Celtic at the weekend, then a season (or two) in the Championship could be just what was needed.

Sunderland’s problems extend beyond a fall from the top-flight. Not only is there an owner who no longer wants to be there in Ellis Short, but the club’s debt means he wants to avoid further over-spending.

While Middlesbrough have spent huge amounts in Championship terms to strengthen attacking options, Simon Grayson has effectively had to look around the bargain basement for new recruits.

Grayson knew what he was getting into when he took on the job, and even the fans seem to have accepted the situation Sunderland find themselves in. Now the focus has to be on doing the best with what they have got.

What Grayson must try to ensure over the next month is that he has a dressing room full of players who want to be in there. The Championship is not a division to be taken lightly, and Sunderland will be in an even greater mess if they are carrying players.

That is what Grayson needs to deal with quickly otherwise any hopes of a push for a play-off (or promotion) place could soon see them actually looking over their shoulders at the bottom end rather than the top.

Sunderland still have some good footballers in their ranks, but the biggest challenge facing Grayson is changing attitudes. He needs to engineer a winning mentality – and that will be hard at a club which has got used to losing and where there is little room for manoeuvre on the transfer front.

If you think back to when Sunderland were last in the Championship, that season galvanised everyone and brought huge excitement as the season developed under Roy Keane.

Grayson must come up with a way of doing the same, despite knowing there is no such buzz surrounding the club 11 years on from Niall Quinn and the Drumaville consortium coming along and backing Keane to deliver promotion.

Grayson and the players will not be dwelling on issues or discussions in the boardroom when the action gets underway – and neither should the fans as Sunderland enter into a season in the Championship again.

There might not be any wild predictions of promotion coming out of the Stadium of Light, but Grayson will do everything he can to try to enjoy the ride.

The opening few weeks will give fans a taster of how Sunderland could fare, with early dates against promotion contenders Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich pencilled in after Friday’s opener with Derby.

Sunderland could do with a positive start, and that could well prove to be the catalyst for a more enjoyable season than many supporters are expecting.