PHIL PARKINSON takes his Sunderland side to Charlton Athletic this afternoon readily admitting he is relieved he has not had to deal with the off-field chaos that has engulfed Addicks boss Lee Bowyer in the last 12 months.

When Charlton beat the Black Cats in the play-off final in May 2019, it looked as the South London club’s fortunes had turned. However, the year-and-a-half since then has seen a messy ownership saga at the Valley spiral out of control, culminating in Charlton being forced to operate under a transfer embargo this summer.

With Thomas Sandgaard having recently completed a successful takeover, Charlton’s immediate problems might finally be behind them, but having been relegated from the Championship last season, Bowyer still finds himself presiding over a squad that has been cobbled together in extremely difficult circumstances.

Parkinson knows all about having to deal with financial uncertainty from his time as manager of Bolton Wanderers, so while Sunderland might be going through off-field issues of their own with Stewart Donald still involved in talks over a possible sale of the club, the Black Cats boss is delighted that his sole focus this summer was on events on the pitch.

“When me and Steve (Parkin) left Bolton and decided to resign because we felt the time was right, we both said that we wanted to try to go somewhere where we were able to try to concentrate on coaching the team,” said Parkinson. “We know from first-hand how hard it is to be talking about the finances every day and wondering whether the players are going to be paid or not.

“When you’ve got that sort of thing going on in the background, it takes over everything. I imagine Lee and Jonny Jackson, his assistant who I have signed a couple of times as a player, will be frustrated at what they’re having to deal with. It’s a tremendous club but, at the moment, it’s having tough times. We’ve got to do our bit to make sure they don’t get a lift this the weekend.”

With that in mind, Parkinson will be urging his players to build on the back-to-back victories over Oxford and Peterborough that have lifted them to fifth in the table.

Both of those wins featured a clean sheet, and while Parkinson might have chopped and changed his strikers in the first month of the season, it is telling that his five-man defence has remained unaltered in the league games, with Jordan Willis, Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan developing an increasingly-impressive relationship at centre-half.

“They’ve done really well,” said Parkinson. “They’ve been working hard on the training ground, and I think that’s absolutely key. In isolation, you want defenders who are big, strong, quick, good on the ball. But whatever their qualities, they need to work for each other and watch each other’s backs out on the football pitch.

“That has to come from the work they do together on the training ground. We’ve been working on that with them, and they’re really buying into it.” We call it ‘man-and-a-half football’ – you’re always watching your colleagues’ backs when you’re on the pitch.”

Sunderland (probable, 3-4-3): Burge; Willis, Wright, Flanagan; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Power, Hume; O’Brien, Wyke, Gooch.