SUNDERLAND kick off the new League One season when they host Bristol Rovers at the Stadium of Light this afternoon.

The Black Cats are in a buoyant mood after putting eight goals past Aston Villa Under-21s in their midweek EFL Trophy game – so what are the main pre-match talking points ahead of their opening league fixture?


Phil Parkinson’s biggest selection dilemma ahead of today’s season opener revolves around who to select up front.

Will Grigg started last weekend’s Carabao Cup defeat to Hull, and while he might have missed the decisive penalty, the Northern Irishman performed well in open play, having at least one effort on goal wrongly ruled out.

However, his impact wasn’t as marked as that of either Wyke or Graham three days later. Wyke scored twice in Sunderland’s EFL Trophy romp, with his aerial prowess proving too much for Villa’s youngsters. Parkinson tended to favour the 27-year-old last season, and might be tempted to stick with him.

Might he produce a surprise by opting for Graham though? The recent signing certainly looked sharp enough as he came off the bench to claim a goal and two assists on Tuesday, and while the likeliest scenario is that he is back amongst the substitutes this afternoon, he couldn’t have done much more to state his case four days ago.


While Grant Leadbitter has been awarded the club captaincy, Max Power will be Sunderland’s on-field skipper this season.

The midfielder was the only player to start both the Carabao Cup defeat to Hull and the EFL Trophy victory over Villa’s Under-21s, and he is clearly going to be a pivotal performer this season.

“Max is a good professional and sets a good example in and around the training ground,” said Parkinson. “He’s very vocal, which is important, and obviously Grant is the club captain and Bailey Wright has been appointed as vice-captain.

“I want a kind of leadership group that myself and Steve Parkin can liaise with on all issues in terms of the squad. It’s always good when you’re looking around and there are quite a few that could justifiably wear that armband.”


Thanks to what happened at the end of last season, Sunderland do not have fond memories of taking on Bristol Rovers.

They didn’t know it at the time, but when they lost 2-0 at Rovers’ Memorial Ground on what proved to be their final game of last season in March, Parkinson’s players suffered a defeat that extinguished hopes of reaching the play-offs.

The League One season was prematurely curtailed shortly after Sunderland’s defeat, and had they claimed a point in the midweek fixture, their points-to-games ratio would have earned them a place in the top six.

“It’s not good memories of that day,” said Parkinson. “We’d really been on a good run up until that game, but it was a poor performance from us. We’ve got to put that record right on Saturday.”


Earlier this week, Aiden McGeady broke his silence to suggest he was willing to remain at Sunderland in order to rebuild bridges with Parkinson and the rest of the club’s management set-up.

The sentiment, however, has not been reciprocated. Parkinson is adamant there is no way back for the Irishman, and will be doing everything he can to move him out of the club before the transfer window closes on October 5.

“We’d like Aiden to move on,” said Parkinson. “As I’ve said, I think the time is right for Aiden to go. We’ve got young players in the squad who we want to give an opportunity to. As ever in football, players move on and younger players emerge.

“That’s what we’d like, and the window doesn’t close until October. Aiden is injured at the moment so he needs to get himself fit. When his injury is right, hopefully we can reach an agreement where he finds a club that he can go and play for.”


While they have now gone two seasons without reclaiming a place in the Championship, Sunderland still start the new campaign as the bookmakers’ favourites to win the League One title.

Peterborough United are next in the betting, and while Darren Ferguson’s side have sold Ivan Toney to Brentford, they have replaced the striker with Jonson Clarke-Harris, who scored 16 goals in all competitions for Bristol Rovers last season.

Despite their off-field problems, Charlton look the strongest of the teams that came down from the Championship – Hull and Wigan have offloaded a host of players – while Fleetwood and Lincoln could be lively, if somewhat unfancied, outsiders.