Q: We’ve passed a huge milestone in the season now, and didn’t get the three points we wanted at Barnsley. How do you see things going from here - if you were putting money on it, would you be confident of automatic promotion still or are the play offs looking ominous?
Craig Davies says...
Despite any admirable optimism, promotion is not in our hands. Certainly no more than it is in Luton’s or Barnsley’s. To have any chance of going up automatically we need them to screw up and fall apart - big time.
That’s not impossible, Luton have yet to have any major wobbles and Barnsley have lost their star striker for the rest of the season, so they may indeed suffer from last minute nerves as we reach the tip of a dramatic season of League 1 football - but their potential fall from grace is based on idealistic hopefulness rather than cold, hard fact.
Look at the ‘goals for’ tally in the table and you will see they seriously outgun us, and that’s not just to do with the players or strikers available. It’s also to do with the bombastic and devil-may-care tactical approach of their attack-minded managers.
By and large they’ve just went for it this season with a brave and bullish approach to putting teams away. I think at times our tactical approach has been a little more cautious and pragmatic. Perhaps if we’d been a little more wildly adventurous, some of our long catalogue of draws may have turned into much needed victories and we’d be further up the table.
Last night was a symbol of that for me. It was frustrating to watch. Genuinely irritating. Grigg was so isolated he practically needed a flight and a runway to meet up with his teammates, continually left to chase the odd long and hopeful ball. It seems odd to spend £4 million on a striker and then not play to that striker’s strengths. It puzzles me.
Can we still go up automatically? It’s not impossible, it just looks improbable. We’d have to start outgunning the two ahead and we just don’t play with enough free thinking abandon to do so. It would mean Ross changing his tactical approach at the last minute, which I can’t see.
I like Ross. He’s been good for us this season and steadied the ship. But I’m certain he didn’t turn up at his interview with Donald claiming he would simply steady the ship. I’m certain he described in great detail how he’d fire us to promotion. Failure to do so would be devastating for him and the club, the consequences of both being bleak.
Jack Ford says...
I think we’re nailed on for the play offs.
We’ve not once grabbed a chance to make the automatic slots our own, and I can’t see it happening any time soon.
Barnsley and Luton have incredible momentum at the moment, with clear systems and stable teams that seemingly get results relentlessly, which is something that can’t really be said for us.
Too often this season we’ve been snatching defeat from the jaws of victory or victory from defeat, we have very rarely seen the kind of comfortable rolling over of a team that we all expected coming into the division.
Although the weather played a massive part last night, I think it’s evident we still don’t have a clear plan going forwards, and can’t get chances for our strikers. We’re playing long ball route on football too often, and it completely minimises our technical superiority while amplifying our physical weaknesses.
We work incredibly hard, and have fantastic character and determination, but no guile. We seem to play the same very basic football week in and week out, relying on individual magic to get us goals. When it works it’s fantastic but when it doesn’t there is no plan B.
We’ve definitely got it in us to make the play offs, and the gap is small enough for anything to happen, but I think our season could well rely on the magic Aiden McGeady is capable of pulling off for us.
Morgan Lowrie says...
There are three main things to consider in the race for automatic promotion. Firstly, Luton’s 24 game unbeaten run. After 180 minutes of Luton v Sunderland they don’t jump out as the best side in the division, but their record clearly shows they are. Luton would need to fall away in the run in, which is entirely possible, but Sunderland would equally have to show their best form all season.
Then, there’s goal difference. Look at any top league, and goal difference is usually the indicator of the best teams in the division. Sounds like common sense, but Luton and Barnsley’s is far superior, and at the end of a 38 or 46 game season, the team with the highest usually finishes top. Sunderland are lagging behind both.
Finally, form and injuries - Maguire out, Watmore out, Gooch’s form taking a nose dive. Things are going wrong at the perfect time for Sunderland’s rivals.
Looking at the positives, Sunderland are unbeaten against the two above them, have Portsmouth to play at home and, with a game in hand, automatic promotion is very much still on the cards. Are Luton likely to have a pristine ending to their season, winning their next nine when the pressure cooker turns up? So Barnsley take mental damage from not being able to effectively put Sunderland out of the automatic promotion picture in their own backyard?
However, at this stage of the season, the fact we’re still talking about others more than ourselves suggests it’s not been the season we’d longed for. Unfortunately, Sunderland have not turned into the team most have hoped they would be in League One, and with ten games to go, it’s looking less and less likely that will be the case.
We do have the wildcard of a Wembley final and we all know the form that inspired under Poyet back in 2014. And, with that, there’s still plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Automatic promotion is still very attainable.