That is the verdict of Owls captain Barry Bannan, who has acknowledged that the club’s 2021-22 season has ultimately ended in failure, despite progress made over the past year following relegation to the third tier.
Wednesday’s prospects of an instant return to the Championship ended in shattering fashion on Monday evening, when an injury-time goal from Patrick Roberts sealed a 2-1 aggregate win for Sunderland following their League One semi-final second leg at Hillsborough, which ended 1-1.
Bannan was visibly upset at the final whistle, but the talismanic midfielder, who has one year left on his Owls deal, has stressed that he has ‘unfinished business’ and expects to stay on and have another crack at promotion in 2022-23.
The Scot, 32, remains confident that the club can go one better next season if the right players are recruited to add to a competitive squad.
But in the here and now, there is a sense of frustration and ‘if only’ as Sunderland prepare for a Wembley final with Wycombe on Saturday week.
Bannan said: “It is going in the right direction, but it is not going quick enough, to be honest.
“We wanted to get promoted this season, but we failed.
“But we cannot get too carried away and too dejected because we were not a million miles away.
“We should have got promoted, no doubt – looking at the squad.
“We have a big summer ahead now. We know we are not far away now and it is just about the right recruitment.
“With boys leaving and coming, it has got to be the right people that come in again.
“That is what we have got right over the last 12 to 18 months. The right people coming in who want to fight for this club and try to get it back to where it belongs.”
Manager Darren Moore will briefly let the dust settle after Monday’s bitter developments before speaking to his crestfallen players about the future.
Sam Hutchinson, Massimo Luongo, Chey Dunkley, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Joe Wildsmith see their contracts expire next month. The deals of Jack Hunt, Saido Berahino and Callum Paterson also end, but there are options to extend them.
Loanees Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jordan Storey, Harlee Dean, Tyreece John-Jules, Lewis Gibson and Florian Kamberi will return to the parent clubs.
Moore will speak to his squad before they depart for the summer to get their input regarding a season which displayed plenty of positivity, but ultimately ended unsuccessfully – and canvass the opinions of senior players in particular.
Bannan added: “He will probably let this go over and then try and give a few boys a phone call and I am sure I’ll be one of the first ones.
“I’ll speak and be honest and put my thoughts across where we could have maybe went better as we’ve that kind of relationship. We’ll be speaking and then take it from there.”
Moore also intends to speak to chairman Dejphon Chansiri about recruitment plans shortly once everyone connected with the club ‘clear our heads’ following the events on Monday.
He said: “We need to do some strategic planning. I’d ask for more time to clear our heads (first).
“It’s important myself, the chairman and recruitment team come together and have a really good chat. At the moment, if I said all that has been discussed, I’d be lying as it hasn’t as we were focused on the here and now.
“I never lifted my head towards next season because from day one, I focused my energy on getting this place going this season. The first phase was getting in the top six, the next was getting into the play-offs and the next was winning them.”