Sunderland must prioritise goalkeeper, centre-back and striker ahead of League One campaign

A Sunderland fan reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at Stadium of Light on October 5, 2013 in Sunderland, England.

Sunderland will be hoping to return to the Championship at the first time of asking when they embark on League One football next season.

15 Aug 1997:  A general view of the Stadium of Light, the new stadium of Sunderland Football Club in Sunderland, England. \ Mandatory Credit: Stu Forster

Sunderland go into League One next season with every intention of returning to the Championship at the first time of asking.

After back-to-back relegations in the past two seasons, new Black Cats boss Jack Ross, with the backing of new owner Stewart Donald, will look to partner a new era on Wearside with a whole load of success. 

However, despite things looking like they could be on the up at Sunderland, it will be hugely important for 42-year-old Ross to bring in plenty of summer signings; especially in three key areas of the Wearsiders' thin squad.

Sunderland fans react during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sunderland and Burton Albion at Stadium of Light on April 21, 2018 in Sunderland, England.

Goalkeeper

Sunderland have always been renowned for their goalkeepers and over the years the Black Cats have had some very good players between the sticks. Jordan Pickford, Thomas Sorensen and Jimmy Montgomery clocked up a tidy 739 appearances on Wearside and represent three very successful stoppers from past sides.

However, ever since the sale of Vito Mannone to Reading in 2017 for just £2million, the Black Cats have had a torrid time with their goalkeeping options. 

Last season saw three different keepers tried and tested, but none covering themselves in glory. Jason Steele made 19 appearances between the sticks in all competitions last term, managing just four clean sheets and conceding 26 goals . Lee Camp moved to Sunderland in the January transfer window, but he did not record a single clean sheet and conceded 22 goals.

Robbin Ruiter of Sunderland during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sunderland and Reading at Stadium of Light on December 2, 2017 in Sunderland, England.

The final stopper was Robbin Ruiter, who joined from FC Ultrecht in 2017. The Dutchman was arguably Sunderland's best 'keeper, managing five clean sheets in 22 games, but he still conceded 34 goals in 1980 minutes of football, meaning the 31-year-old conceded a goal every 58 minutes.

As a new era begins on Wearside, arguably first through the door for Jack Ross's new club could well be a goalkeeper who will stand up to the test of League One football.

Central Defender

After Sunderland's former captain John O'Shea recently left the club for Championship club Reading, the Wearsider's need for a player to step in at the heart of the Sunderland defence has become apparent.

Like their previous goalkeepers, the Black Cats have often had success with their central defenders. Kevin Ball, Charlie Hurley, Gordon Chisolm and the most famous of them all Terry Butcher have all played for Sunderland as centre backs. 

As well as O'Shea, former Stoke City defender Marc Wilson left the club after only a short stint and next to leave could be Ivory Coast international Lamine Kone. All of these departures from Sunderland's defensive line leaves Ross with a big task on his hands to recruit in this key area. 

Striker

Most importantly, Sunderland will need a striker to fire them back to the Championship at the first time of asking. Last season saw the Black Cats only break the deadlock 52 times in 46 games and, after relying on 19-year-old's Joel Asoro and Josh Maja for the majority of the season, the inevitable happened when they finished bottom of the league. 

Lewis Grabban finished as top scorer for Sunderland, despite swapping Wearside for the Midlands in January when he joined Aston Villa. 

The fact the 30-year-old finished the season still on the top of the scoring charts with Sunderland with just 12 goals emphasises just how much Ross is in need of a striker who can not only score goals, but change a game when his team are chasing a result.

Despite the mention of these three key area's, it will be important for the former St Mirren manager to strengthen everywhere possible in the coming weeks as the club prepares itself for life in the third tier.

Anything less than a squad who can stand up to the gruelling physical aspect of League One could well see Sunderland struggling to do what they hope to do when they seek promotion from England's third division. 

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