Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland have been placed at the top of the list of the main contenders for next season’s League One crown. The Black Cats have been named the favourites for the title, despite missing out on a playoff berth last term. The Wearside club are preparing for their third successive campaign in the third tier, having failed in the playoff final at the first time of asking and finishing eighth in 2019/20.

As 8/1 favourites with LV Bet, who are one of several sportsbooks currently offering free bets with enhanced odds during pre-season, the pressure is already on for Parkinson and his boys to perform from day one. The squad has also been bolstered with some much-needed Championship experience in the shape of left-sided forward Aiden O’Brien from Millwall and battle-hardened centre back Bailey Wright from Bristol City.

More new faces now unlikely for Sunderland

The issue for the Black Cats is their recently enforced salary cap of £2.5m per year, which will now hamstring Sunderland from adding to their squad further in the weeks leading up to the new season. Former Everton left back Luke Garbutt was thought to be in line for a switch to the Stadium of Light prior to the news of the salary cap, but his wage demands are now likely to be out of range. It’s a similar story with unattached keeper Remi Matthews, who has been lined up to replace departed keeper Jon McLaughlin as the new number-one, and Dmitri Mitchell, who has been training with the club since the full back’s release from Manchester United.

Parkinson may have to work with what he’s got

There is plenty of talent that exists within the Sunderland squad for Parkinson to work with. In the middle of the park, experienced campaigner Grant Leadbitter is a great focal point, while Luke O’Nien and Max Power add the drive and dynamism. In the final third, there is a proven goalscorer in the shape of Will Grigg, and the physical presence of Charlie Wyke is valuable to any team – underlined by Ipswich Town’s interest in him earlier this summer.

Speaking of Ipswich, they are also rated by the bookmakers as one of Sunderland’s main contenders for the League One title again. The Tractor Boys, who flattered to deceive in the second half of last season, along with Portsmouth and Peterborough, are the main rivals expected to be chasing the Black Cats down.

Off the field, there is still genuine uncertainty in terms of the club’s future, which could prove a destablising factor in Sunderland’s season. Current owner Stewart Donald remains keen to relinquish the club, but as yet, a suitable buyer has not been found. Phil Parkinson’s role will be to keep his players focused firmly on the task at hand of moving the Black Cats back towards the top table of English football.