Well that was easy after all, we didn’t even have to play very well. What took you so long, was there a queue at the post office? Now that the amuse bouche of the Pizza Cup is done and dusted there’s a final furlong ahead of us. Let’s start with the good news. We go into this run of 13 games second in the form table which is definitely a good place to be in at the end of the season. Ultimately a team on a run at this stage of the season tends to be the one to break the top two. Add to this the fact that we are keeping clean sheets, largely thanks to the emergence of Dion Sanderson, and scoring goals largely due to the renaissance of Charlie Wyke, and things are looking rather positive.
Wembley was an important win for the players who were there last time as it will have exorcised some demons. While the question of whether Sunderland were bottlers remained, it was always a danger that those doubts would creep in. Winning the Papa John’s puts that to bed. The absolute good news is that promotion, and even the league title is ours to win. We are currently two points behind Peterborough in second place having played the same amount of games as them, but we have them waiting for us in April. We are eight points behind Hull with three games in hand. Win our games in hand and we go above them. To add to the confidence, we get to play Hull and so could put distance between us and them. Like I say, it’s in our hands.
Seven of our remaining games are against teams in the top 10, ordinarily that might be seen as a bad thing, but with teams chasing those promotion slots they will not be sitting back and soaking up. If they are serious about a push for the play offs or the top two then they will have to go for it. Of those seven games, four are at home where you would expect us to put teams to the sword. All this is based, of course, on the premise that Sunderland will do exactly what they should do and we all know that our rollercoaster has dips every now and again.
On to the bad news. As Flanagan left the pitch at Wembley a nagging doubt about our involvement in the trophy crept in. Hull sit top of the league having played 36 games; they only have ten games left to play. Between now and the end of the season we have to shoehorn an extra three games in somewhere. That would be April. At the start of April we play three games in 8 days. In the second week it’s 3 in 7. Our patchwork defence is already creaking and one or two injuries in key areas could massively derail us. As it stands, too much reliance on Charlie Wyke could be an issue if he gets targeted. It was good to see Ross Stewart and Kimpioka on the bench as it may be players like that who see us through this frantic spell. The defence is more of a concern. At one stage at Wembley, we had one recognised defender on the pitch.
The next bit of bad news? Well remember I said we were second in the form table? Hull are top. They have won their last five games. There is a concern there that, as they have less games to play they can maintain their run and remain fresh until the finish line. Ultimately, I guess we just have to remember that it is in our hands. Win our games in hand, beat Peterborough, Lincoln and Hull and all of a sudden we’re looking comfortable. Unfortunately, only one of those games is at home. We have to travel to Hull and Peterborough in what are clearly key fixtures in our run in. Peterborough are top of the home table in League One, Hull are third. Sunderland are 7th. Just to chuck a further spanner in the works, we have to travel to Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers and we all know what sort of game that will be.
How’s it going to end? Lord knows, but here’s my predictions for what it’s worth:
Accrington (a) Win
Lincoln (h) Win
Bristol R (a) Draw
Oxford (h) Draw
Peterborough (a) Draw
Charlton (h) Win
Wigan (a) Win
Blackpool (a) Draw
Hull (a) Lose
Accrington (h) Win
Blackpool (h) Win
Plymouth (a) Win
Northampton (h) Win
Final points tally 88, will that be enough? We’ll just have to hope so.