After joining on loan from Wigan Athletic in 2018 - before a permanent deal was agreed in January - Max Power admits that he fully expected Sunderland to win promotion in his debut season at the club.
Following two seasons of disappointment, Sunderland’s new captain is hoping it’s third time in the North East as he and his teammates strive for Championship football once again.
“The season I signed for Sunderland, I fully expected us to go straight back up,” Power admitted, speaking to Colin Murray at the 2020/21 EFL Season Launch.
“We lost in the Play-Off Final,” he continued. "So yes, we came close but then obviously last season had to curtail early because of coronavirus, so I’m really hoping it’s third time lucky.”
After signing permanently from Wigan, it wasn’t the debut season Power predicted. By his own admission, he was expecting promotion celebrations come the end of the 2018/19 season.
Instead, he suffered double Wembley heartache in front of two sold-out crowds at the National Stadium. First, against Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy Final, and then again against Charlton Athletic in the League One Play-Off Final just two months later.
"Those games in the 2018/19 season were my first games at Wembley Stadium,” he revealed.
"One was a penalty shootout defeat and in the other one I went off injured after 27 seconds, so I’ve not got great memories of playing there. It was also the first time I’d been involved in the Play-Offs, and I was looking forward to the experience at the time but obviously it’s only enjoyable when you win the game."
Having come so close the past two seasons, Sunderland fans - and players - will be hoping that in his first full season in charge, Phil Parkinson is the man to get the city smiling again. And the players feel that he is the right man to breath new life into the football club, too.
“We are smiling again, that’s what the manager has instilled in us."
It won’t be easy, however. With Wigan, Charlton and Hull City joining following relegation from the Sky Bet Championship last season, League One is as competitive as ever and Sunderland have some tough games ahead in the upcoming campaign.
“You’ve only got to look at the teams in this division this season to see that it’s going to be a really tough season,” Power continued.
“But obviously everyone in the North East is desperate to get back up to the Championship as a minimum and with a club of this size, one day, the Premier League."
Promotion is the aim, and one thing Power and the rest of the side are very aware of, is what football means to the people of Sunderland.
“It’s like a religion,” he says. And with that, the players are more determined than ever.
“It’s hard to get away from the fact that when you play for a club like Sunderland in the North East, you realise how big a club it is and how important the club is to the city and the people in it.
“The football up here is like a religion and there’s no escaping that. Fans are desperate for us to get back up the divisions, so first and foremost that has to be our aim. But it definitely won’t be easy."
Power also has the added responsibility of being made captain for the upcoming season, which will no doubt add to his desire to win promotion.
"One thing I’ve realised playing for Sunderland is, it’s a huge game for anyone coming to the Stadium of Light, and when we play away from home too. The following is always so big, it’s a cup final atmosphere everywhere we play and that’s probably what we haven't dealt with well so far.
"We need to start quickly and get into the top two, because the faster we do, the more confidence we will gain."