The early trip to Sunderland almost every Portsmouth fan wanted to avoid - but at least it'll be out the way early
It was a fixture most fans would have been hoping to avoid at the start of the season.
Having made the trek up to Sunderland for Pompey’s final two away games of the 2018-19 campaign, respite from travelling that far north again was what everyone hoped for.
In fact, a hiatus from playing the Black Cats altogether would have been ideal.
But in their second away game and third League One fixture of the 2019-20 season, Kenny Jackett’s men head to Wearside yet again.
The rivalry which became fierce by the end of last campaign will quickly be renewed.
By the time Pompey head to Sunderland on Saturday, August 17, it will be the fifth time in 13 games the two third-tier heavyweights do battle.
A Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley, a league game at the Stadium of Light where the tension was palpable, and two play-off semi-final ties spoilt by unsavoury crowd scenes proved more than enough.
But with Jack Ross’ men being defeating by Charlton in the play-off final, it means the Blues and Black Cats will both again be vying for an automatic promotion spot.
Thinking positively – at least we can get it out of the way early when it’ll still be warm and the route up there is still vivid!
The opening-day fixture at Shrewsbury would have likely been taken by most.
With groundwork ongoing at Fratton Park, Pompey got their wish of starting the campaign on the road.
The journey to New Meadow is not too grueling, while the opponents are not all that daunting.
The Shrews finished 18th last season, with Kenny Jackett’s men delivering a 2-0 victory in March.
James Bolton was likely hoping he wouldn’t be heading back to Shropshire so soon after signing from Shrewsbury earlier this month.
Tranmere are the first opponents to visit PO4 on Saturday, August 10.
Mickey Mellon's troops will still have crucial impetus heading into the fixture following back-to-back promotions and it’ll certainly be an early acid test of how they’re going to acclimatise in the third tier.
There’s then a run of three matches against teams who’ll all have designs on promotion.
The trek to Sunderland is followed by home games against Coventry (August 20) and Rotherham (August 24).
The Sky Blues clinched an eighth-place finish in their first campaign back in League One and Mark Robins has already made six signings this summer.
Former Fratton favourite Conor Chaplin will again be given a welcome reception like he was in April – this time under the new floodlights.
Rotherham, meanwhile, might arguably be the side with the firmest chance of promotion.
The Millers were relegated from the Championship last season, but bounced straight back under when that occured under Paul Warne two seasons ago.
Pompey’s Christmas period, on paper, could have been a lot worse.
Jackett’s men start off with promotion-rivals Ipswich travelling to Fratton Park on Saturday, December 21.
Crucially, the Blues will have home advantage and in their last game before Christmas last season, Sunderland were put to the sword.
Fans can spend December 25 knowing they can pour themselves an extra drink or two with Wycombe visiting on Boxing Day.
And while Pompey are away at MK Dons (December 29) and at Gillingham on New Year’s Day, they’re the sort of trips that are doable while nursing a headache from the night before.
There’s no getting up at 5am to go to Fleetwood this time.
Last season, an eight-match winless streak in January and February played a significant factor in why Pompey didn’t deliver automatic promotion.
And in those two months of 2020, there are several tricky clashes such as Doncaster (January 5) and Sunderland (February 1) at home, as well as excursions Bolton (January 18), Lincoln (January 28), Coventry (February 11) and Fleetwood (February 22).
A home fixture would have been preferred on the final day if things are still all to play for.
That’s eluded Pompey, though.
Instead they have to go to a Burton side who defeated champions Luton and second-placed Barnsley in the final two months of last term.