SUNDERLAND midfielder Alex Pritchard delivered a message of defiance to the fans calling on the supporters to stick by the team through what is expected to be a rollercoaster campaign.

The Black Cats kicked off their return to the Championship with a 1-1 draw against Coventry City. They were leading for most of the game through Jack Clarke’s header before a bit of individual brilliance from Viktor Gyokeres denied them all three points late on.

Sunderland gained promotion from League One last season after a turbulent four years at the club in the third tier of English football. But now that they have made the desired jump back to the second tier, Pritchard is under no illusions of the difficulties having played at that level in the past and the club have to earn the right to stay there.

“This club is a massive club but you’ve got to realise where you are at this moment in time” Pritchard told Sky Sports after the draw at the Stadium of Light.

“Sunderland is a massive club. I’ve been in the Premier League for god knows how many years but then I go back to that we’ve been in League One for four years and this is the first time back in the Championship.

“Loads of new players and loads that haven’t played Championship level so you’ve got to stick by us. It’s going to be a difficult season. Last year, we had big ups and downs, we’re going to have the same this year.

“We’ve just got to stick together. The fans have got to stick with us and we’ll just give it our all.”

Like Sunderland, Pritchard has had to go to the depths to build himself back up again dropping down to the third tier with the Black Cats last summer after his release from Huddersfield Town.

The attacking midfielder had to overcome numerous injury problems whilst waiting around to see if there were going to be any clubs willing to take a chance on him given his injury record. He’s gone on to become a key player for the club and won the man of the match award for his performance against the Sky Blues.

Speaking about the journey to returning to playing football in the Championship, Pritchard continued: “It was a difficult moment for me personally. Off the back of having my moves and they come off the back of leaving a club or being released and not having a club, it’s a difficult moment. There’s a lot of players out there and I obviously feel for them players.

“You’ve just got to stick in. I obviously had a chance to come back in and I just gave it my all just to get back to Championship level. I’ve played here but it doesn’t give me the right to play in the Championship. I had to work to get back here.

“Now that I’m here, I want to stay here and we will see what happens.”

Sunderland return to Championship action this weekend when they make the long trip to Ashton Gate to face Bristol City in the Championship.