15th March - Doncaster Rovers vs Barnsley
After Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Oakwell many Sunderland supporters have commented that they hope Doncaster Rovers can “do us a favour” by overcoming Barnsley tonight. Thankfully, Donny are no mugs and you can guarantee, with home advantage, they’ll want to pick up three points to tighten their own grip on the play-off spots.
The Tykes admittedly don’t have the hardest run in following this tie, so a result for Donny in-front of the Sky cameras on Friday would go a long way towards helping the Lads in the chase for second place.
4th April - Accrington Stanley vs Sunderland
I’m still half expecting this game to be rearranged again by some force of nature, but our visit to the Wham Stadium needs to see Sunderland pick up three points come hell or high water.
Stanley gave us a solid game up at the Stadium of Light only last month, and showed that they’re in no way a pushover. However, anything less than maximum points down in Lancashire would almost certainly condemn Jack Ross’ team to the play-offs - or at best pile enormous pressure on our remaining games.
If Barnsley pick up points in the weeks that surround this game it’ll put them almost beyond our reach, whilst Luton would almost be out of sight completely in failing to capitalise on our game in hand - effectively handing them promotion. This game could be huge.
6th April - Burton Albion vs Barnsley
If Sunderland do manage to take all three points from their game in hand, then focus would turn to how Barnsley react to us being right on their tail. Whereas we’d visit Rochdale that weekend, the Tykes have a tough away game down at Burton Albion with the pressure right on them.
A Sunderland win in the days prior would most see us only a point behind them, and if Barnsley slipped up at the Pirelli, you’d like to think the Lads would be roared on to a win by a capacity away crowd that could put us firmly in the driving seat.
However, a win for second placed Barnsley down at Burton would once again ramp the pressure on us to simply keep up with them, and if we cracked at Rochdale/don’t pick up three points at Stanley, then this could be the week Barnsley really pull clear of us.
27th April - Sunderland vs Portsmouth
Around a month after the Checkatrade Trophy Final sees the two clubs clash for the third time this season, with the early pace setters visit the Stadium of Light for the first time in almost a decade.
They may have lost a foothold on the automatic places, but Portsmouth are still in with a shout should Barnsley or ourselves slip up - they’ll see the visit to Wearside as a must-win match if they are to regain their place in the League One automatic promotion places.
From a red and white perspective, Portsmouth present us with probably our toughest game until season’s end and Barnsley/Luton will be hoping they manage to take points off us to strengthen their own positions - we have to make sure they don’t.
30th April - Fleetwood vs Sunderland
Who knows what twists and turns will have taken place by the time we face Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town, though either way this game will likely define Sunderland’s season.
The result of our trip to Fleetwood will give us a much better idea if we have to face the lottery of the play-offs or if we’ll be in the driving seat heading into the final game of the season at Southend.
If we go into the match in the top two and win, we only have ourselves to rely on at Roots Hall come the weekend; however, whether we are in the top two or not, defeat at Fleetwood could crucially take it out of our own hands.