LEE JOHNSON is ready for a summer of major changes at Sunderland, but admits the club’s failure to win promotion means budgetary restraints will have a significant impact on their transfer activity over the course of the next few months.

The Black Cats missed out on a place in the League One play-off final when Saturday’s 2-1 win over Lincoln City meant they suffered a 3-2 defeat on aggregate, with the Imps progressing to take on Blackpool at Wembley on Sunday.

Sunderland’s attention now switches to preparing for what will be a fourth successive season in League One, and with more than a dozen senior players due to become free agents or reaching their end of their loan deals, Johnson’s squad will look markedly different by the time the new campaign begins in August.

The Sunderland boss will hold talks with owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman this week, and admits a number of players will already have played their final game for the Black Cats. They will be replaced by new arrivals, although missing out on promotion will have an inevitable impact on the budget at Johnson’s disposal.

“There’s going to be a natural evolution of the squad now,” said the Sunderland boss. “Some players will have played their last game there today for various reasons. Some we may want to keep but can’t afford to, some we might not want and will want to move on, and others we might want to retain and will give them our best offer.

“It’s a sad day because you do build a rapport with these players, but the club has also showed today the potential power we’ve got – the pressing game we played in the first half, the attitude from the fans to get our pressing game going.

“You’ve got to give credit to Lincoln for a fantastic season – they’ve used the loan market very well. I think our recruitment becomes the difference, to be honest with you. That is the summer challenge – to make sure, potentially on a slightly reduced budget, that we actually recruit very well.”

Having been appointed as Phil Parkinson’s successor in December, Johnson was unable to lead Sunderland back into the Championship during his first season in charge.

He presided over an eventful campaign, with the Papa John’s Trophy final success at Wembley delivering an undoubted high even if performances in the league never quite reached the sustained standards that were required.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ arrival as the Sunderland’s new owner was another key moment, and for all that he was understandably disappointed in the wake of Saturday’s play-off exit, Johnson remains convinced that with the Swiss investor at the helm, the club is on the right track.

“I fully believe in the club, there’s no doubting that,” said Johnson. “I came into the club knowing how difficult it was going to be. We’ve had an unbelievable run of things that have gone on – some you know, and some you don’t know – and we’ve obviously continued to try to plough away.

“In the background, we’ve got a sporting director and owner working very hard, and a new head of recruitment and data, and that’s a process that’s ever-evolving, but that I don’t have to be involved in until now.

“We will sit down and reflect on the season, and have some really honest conversations and be brutally honest about what went well and what didn’t go well. There’ll be changes. It’s inevitable there’ll be changes, and the test will be whether we can make those changes for the better. Football’s not in a great place, and that could work for us or it could work against us. Inevitably, we’ll be judged by the quality of our recruitment in the summer.”

Johnson has had to deal with a number of obstacles in the last six months, but while December’s Covid outbreak was clearly a factor in Sunderland’s failure to win promotion, the head coach feels the defensive injury issues that plagued the squad in the second half of the season were even more damaging.

“You couldn’t make up what’s happened to our backline,” he said. “That’s what has cost us, more than anything else, just not having enough players at their peak in that position since Dion (Sanderson) went down.”