THE Championship has been Alex Neil’s bread and butter for a number of years with Norwich City and Preston North End. But with a slightly different look to the schedule this season because of the World Cup, the Sunderland boss is running the rule of the second tier and how they tackle their first season back in the Championship in four years.

From the beginning of November to the festive period, the Championship will pause as the nations elite battle it out in Qatar. “I think for us as a first time in the league for quite a few years, it might not be a bad thing (the World Cup break)” said Neil as he brings his players back in for pre-season training.

Time will tell whether the break will be beneficial or detrimental to Sunderland’s season as they look to make a fast start to their Championship return. Every team has to cope with the new climate but Sunderland are already looking at how they can use it to their advantage.

The Black Cats boss continued: “Naturally closer to the team, I’ll be able to say whether that is the case because if we are doing really well, you don’t want that break to come. Equally, when it is your first year back up, there is going to be a change in intensity.

“It is going to be a change in mindset, a change in the toll that it’s going to take physically and mentally for the players. What I am hoping for the moment it’s not a bad thing that we can really have a blitz to that point, get a break, let them recover physically and mentally and then obviously go and try and see the second half of the season out.

“Time will tell in that sense but for me, at this moment in time, I don’t see that as being a bad thing for us.”

The Northern Echo: Sunderland manager Alex Neil watches his side in action.Sunderland manager Alex Neil watches his side in action.

The World Cup schedule is expected to give the Sunderland boss plenty to think about and after the fixtures were released last week, the manager has a clearer picture of how the season looks. But to avoid too much emphasis being placed on working towards the World Cup break, it’s a plate spinning exercise for the manager who has earmarked crucial points in the season.

“I mainly look at times so the start of the season” Neil added. “You want some good early fixtures so you can get some points on the board. You naturally look at the Christmas period because it is normally very congested, albeit it is different this season, and then what the run-in looks like because it could be vitally important for a variety of different reasons.

“That is generally the areas that I look at mainly because they are crunch times in the season that can dictate how successful you can be for that year. Then obviously, I have got a couple of ex clubs. To be fair, it’s not something I particularly go to but once I have sussed out what is what then I do see where they land as well.”

After a 16 match unbeaten run saw Sunderland achieve promotion from League One, the hope is that momentum can continue to build on Wearside. Lynden Gooch, Patrick Roberts and Bailey Wright have all signed new contracts with the club for the next two season while the club have sold around 30,000 season tickets for next season.

One thing optimism and confidence can bring, as football history suggests, is complacency and that’s not something the manager is prepared to let happen in the squad. “That’s one thing I am trying to guard against for everybody in the building” he said.

“The Championship has been my bread and butter for a number of years and the difficulty you’ve got with the Championship, unlike for League One and the sample that I had, is the fact that you can play top of the league and bottom of the league and both of the games are equally as difficult.

“There isn’t any easy games or easy points. You need to fight tooth and nail for every single point so providing we understand that, providing we go and try and do the best we possibly can in the recruitment window and add as much depth and quality to the squad as we can, we give ourselves the best chance of being successful.

“All the key elements have been discussed on a regular basis and we just want to make sure we try and do that as well as we can.”