SUNDERLAND headed into the international break sitting in sixth position in the Championship off the back of an impressive 3-1 home win over Birmingham City.

How have the last few weeks been for the Black Cats, and what might lie in store when the action resumes?


Mixed, but generally okay. Sunderland played five games between the last international break and the current one, and delivered two wins, two defeats and a draw.

The defeats both came at the start of the spell, with a disappointing 2-1 loss at Stoke being followed by a more palatable 1-0 defeat at Leicester’s King Power Stadium. Sunderland might have lost to the league leaders, but they put on a decent show.

The 3-1 home win over Norwich was much more like it, with the Black Cats finishing comfortably on top, and a relatively dour goalless draw at Swansea was followed by Saturday’s dominant win over Birmingham.

The Northern Echo: Jobe Bellingham celebrates after scoring against BirminghamJobe Bellingham celebrates after scoring against Birmingham (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Last weekend’s success was especially notable as it saw Sunderland cope with the absence of both first-choice centre-halves, and one of the themes of the last month has been the continued development of some of the club’s summer additions. Nazariy Rusyn and Adil Aouchiche have made major forward strides, while Nectar Triantis and Jenson Seelt have also now been blooded into the first team.


Continue the development of some of the youngsters, and step up their integration into the first-team squad.

Neither Mason Burstow nor Rusyn are away during the current international break, so this should be a good opportunity for them to work closely with Tony Mowbray at the Academy of Light, alongside fellow forwards Eliezer Mayenda and Luis Hemir.

Mayenda caught the eye during his brief second-half cameo from the substitutes’ bench at the weekend, and having returned to full fitness in the last few weeks, the break gives the 18-year-old an ideal opportunity to show Mowbray what he can do.

The Northern Echo: Eliezer Mayenda in action against BirminghamEliezer Mayenda in action against Birmingham (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Triantis is away representing Australia Under-23s, but having performed creditably at the weekend, Seelt will be hoping to persuade Mowbray that he is now a viable competitor for a first-team spot ahead of O’Nien, who will return from suspension when Sunderland’s Championship programme resumes with a trip to Plymouth.

The break should also enable Aji Alese to close in on a first-team return, with the defender’s injury absence since his brief run-out in May’s play-off semi-final drawing to an end.


Reasonably inviting. Sunderland play nine matches before the end of the year, five of which pit them against teams currently in the bottom ten positions in the table.

The back-to-back home matches against West Brom and Leeds in early December are obvious standouts, with the latter, which is a televised game on a Tuesday night, likely to provide an instructive examination of Sunderland’s promotion credentials.


The Black Cats’ home form has been much-improved this season – see off Leeds, and they can realistically start thinking about a top-two position come the end of the campaign, never mind another play-off spot.

The Northern Echo: Sunderland head coach Tony MowbraySunderland head coach Tony Mowbray (Image: Ian Horrocks)

A run of three away games at Plymouth, Millwall and Bristol City means a lot of travelling for the fans, but it should also offer the potential for plenty of points.

Christmas week features back-to-back away matches at Hull and Rotherham, before Sunderland kick off 2024 with a New Year’s Day home game against Preston.


Strap yourself in for plenty of Jack Clarke chat. Sunderland managed to hold on to their star left winger in January despite sustained interest, and a number of formal offers, from Burnley. Will they be able to maintain a similarly firm stance in January?

Burnley are understood to be lining up another approach for Clarke, whose stock has continued to rise in the opening months of this season thanks to nine goals and an assist in his 16 Championship matches.

The Clarets look destined for a relegation battle though, so it is the strengthening suggestions that Brentford are also lining up a January bid for Clarke that could be most significant. As an upwardly-mobile, established Premier League club, Brentford could be an attractive destination for the 22-year-old.

The Northern Echo: Jack Clarke has been Sunderland's star performer in the first three months of the seasonJack Clarke has been Sunderland's star performer in the first three months of the season (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Sunderland would certainly want more than £20m before they’d even consider selling Clarke – potentially, much more – so it will be interesting to see how things play out. If they cash in, Mowbray will be expecting Kristjaan Speakman to sanction the reinvestment of a significant chunk of whatever money is received.

The Black Cats boss has talked about potentially looking to sign a proven goalscorer in January, but with Rusyn, Mayenda and Burstow all showing signs of progress, he might struggle to persuade those above him that another centre-forward is an essential requirement.

A natural right-back would be desirable given the way Mowbray has had to shuffle things around to fill the position in the last few weeks, but with Corry Evans likely to stay on the long-term absentee list for a fair while yet, the priority in terms of January incomings will surely be a central midfield, preferably one whose primary focus is on the defensive side of the game.

Jobe Bellingham slotted in at central midfield relatively effectively earlier this season, but the teenager looks much better playing as a ‘number ten’. Ideally, Sunderland could do with a more natural alternative to Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah.