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Eight of the 11 players who started for Alex Neil’s Sunderland in Saturday’s play-off final didn’t cost the club a single penny in transfer fees.

And that eye for a bargain is likely to prove invaluable once again as the Black Cats look to make a splash on their return to the (relative) big time. 

Here are five players Sunderland can sign this summer for absolutely nothing.  

Patrick Roberts 

Let’s start with an obvious one. 

Remember when your PE teacher used to join in during the last ten minutes of football practice? That’s almost how it felt as Roberts danced a merry jig through Gareth Ainsworth’s dizzied backline, plucking defence-splitting passes out of thin air and generally looking a step ahead of everyone else under the Wembley arch. 

During his short-lived spell as a Sunderland player, the former Celtic and Manchester City winger – who was plying Champions League football not so long ago – has proven beyond all contention that he belongs at a higher level. Like Daniel Day Lewis finding himself contracted to a middling ITV detective drama.

Roberts recently described the Black Cats as a ‘huge club’ recently. With some justification. But retaining his services for full year in the third-tier would have been easier said than done. 

Alex Gorrin 

The tempo-setting metronome at the heart of Oxford United’s midfield, Gorrin is the man who makes one of League One’s most free-flowing sides tick. He’s done so ever since the day he arrived, from Motherwell, back in 2019. 

“The one person that gels most of our good play together is Alex Gorrin,” said former boss Karl Robinson. “He is a phenomenal signing for this club.” 

The 28-year-old would be a ‘phenomenal’ signing for Sunderland, too. Gorrin possesses an impressive passing range plus excellent reading of the game, in and out of possession. 

Robinson admitted, a couple of seasons ago, that Oxford fought off competition from the Black Cats for Gorrin’s signature. The silky Spaniard spent five years at Wearside between 2009 and 2014. And, if Sunderland come calling again, Gorrin may feel he has unfinished business at the Stadium of Light. 

Tom Barkhuizen 

One of 13 players released by Preston North End earlier this month, Barkhuizen’s versatility, experience and eye for goal mean he’s unlikely to be queuing up at the Job Centre when next season kicks off. 

Sunderland could certainly do a lot worse. And Barkhuizen’s excellent relationship with former Deepdale boss Neil means a reunion on the banks of the river Wear would come as no real surprise. 

The hard-working wideman, who scored 11 goals under Neil in 2019/20, would give Sunderland extra options on the right, on the left, or through the middle. 

Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images

Conor Ripley 

Ron-Thorben Hoffman looks certain to return to parent club Bayern Munich after falling out of favour following the departure of Lee Johnson. And this – coupled with Lee Burge’s impending exit – means Sunderland will in the market for a new shot-stopper. 

Middlesbrough-born Ripley is also on the move. He will leave Preston in July. Will the presence of Neil, plus those north-east roots, pave the way for a switch to the Stadium of Light?

The former England U20 international would provide stable competition for young Anthony Patterson, a la Daniel Iversen at Preston. 

Alex Stewart 

Arguably the finest centre-half in League One more than held his own against namesake Ross and co in the play-off final but still ended up on the losing side. That does not mean Stewart, a high-risk yet dependable ball-winning centre-half, is destined to spend another season sharing a pitch with Morecambe, Fleetwood and co, however. 

Stewart ainda está para estender seu acordo em Wycombe, embora ele tem foram oferecidos termos novos.E Neil certamente não pôde deixar de ficar impressionado com um desempenho normalmente comandante em Wembley.Além disso, algumas das melhores contratações do SCOT em Preston - como Patrick Bauer - chegaram dos clubes da Liga Um.

Adições defensivas são obrigatórias para Sunderland neste verão.Bailey Wright, Arbenit Xhemajli e Jordan Willis estão todos sem contrato. 

Enquanto isso, Callum Doyle deve retornar ao Manchester City após o vencimento de seu contrato de empréstimo. 

Foto de Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Em outras notícias, Ian Wright tenta ignorar o que o apresentador MOTD diz sobre o Arsenal