Sunderland were a well-established - albeit regularly relegation-threatened - Premier League side until recently, but have endured a dramatic fall from the top level of English football. In the last two campaigns the Black Cats have failed to consolidate their status in the top flight and then the Championship, and now they find themselves in the murky depths of League One. Jack Ross's side desperately need to bounce straight back up, or they could find themselves stuck in the third tier for a while longer.
Despite ending the season as the lowest-placed team in the Championship, Sunderland are early-season favourites to win League One and achieve promotion back to the second tier on the first time of asking. There have been big changes at the Stadium of Light over the summer. Manager Chris Coleman was sacked and millionaire Stewart Donald along with an international consortium of investors bought the club. The new owners have promised to invest money in the club, and some players such as Jerome Sinclair and Jack Baldwin have come in over the summer to bolster the squad.
While they may be listed as favourites in the bookies' estimations, some tipsters are warning against staking on Sunderland to achieve promotion this time. In fact, according to Oddschecker, there is still a lack of quality in the squad and the Black Cats are unlikely to run away with the league. Experts at the betting comparison site think that the race for the title could be wide open, with no stand out favourites like Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers last season.
Sunderland will be mindful of the fact that they are on a dangerously slippery slope, and other Premier League sides from days gone by have suffered similar slides into the lower tiers. One of the most famous cases was Leeds United, who were relegated from the top division at the end of the 2003-04 season. The Yorkshire outfit dropped into League One in 2007. They spent three seasons in the third tier before achieving automatic promotion to the Championship under Simon Grayson in the 2009-10 campaign. Another example is Portsmouth, who spent seven years in the top flight before plummeting all the way down to League Two.
Unlike the above-mentioned teams, Sunderland haven't been through the same kind of financial crisis on their way to League One. And with the new owners at the club, they should be in a strong position to challenge at the top of the table. The Black Cats also have a promising young manager at the helm with Ross, who was named PFA Scotland Manager of the Year last season after leading St Mirren to the Scottish Championship title.
Sunderland have a good chance of getting promoted at the first time of asking, but it looks like it could be quite a tussle between some of the stronger sides. Ross will be well aware that if he doesn't succeed this time, the Black Cats run the risk of treading water in the third tier for a run of seasons.