This was always going to be a massive game, wasn’t it? Sunderland vs Portsmouth in the final home game of the season. Two former Premier League sides duking it out for promotion from the third tier in front of a packed out Stadium of Light - it has all the ingredients for an absolute classic.
Peterborough’s last-minute equaliser on Easter Monday has taken Sunderland’s automatic promotion fate out of their hands, so victory over Pompey is crucial. Kenny Jackett’s men also need three points to potentially overtake second-placed Barnsley.
It’s going to be one hell of a nervy afternoon on Wearside.
State of play...
The draw at the ABAX Stadium put a severe dent in Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes. For the first time this season their fate is not in their own hands and, even if they win their remaining fixtures, they could well be pipped by Barnsley to second place.
Sunderland are currently four points behind The Tykes; however, should they beat Portsmouth and the Yorkshiremen fail to beat Blackpool at home it will hand the initiative back to Wearside. Pompey will also be hoping for an upset at Oakwell as they can move into the top two with a win against Sunderland and also have a game in hand over Barnsley.
Luton Town missed the opportunity to seal promotion this weekend as they succumbed to a last-minute equaliser to AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday. The Hatters need four points from their last two games to confirm their return to the Championship, and they will edge closer with a win at Burton Albion on Saturday.
Should Sunderland lose it will give Charlton Athletic the chance to swap places with the Wearsiders. Lee Bowyer’s side are looking for back-to-back wins when they travel to Gillingham.
Jack Ross Says...
No [need to lift the players after the Peterborough draw], because of how the games this season have been against them and the crowd that is going to be in the stadium, because of the significance of the game for both teams.
Barnsley won again, Portsmouth don’t have any margin for error either really as well, I think that will suit us, it will be a good game.
We have to make sure we win every game, starting on Saturday.
The last thing you want to do is somebody else slip up and you haven’t taken advantage of it.
The players will be fine, they will be okay, there were no magic words you can say straight after the game to take away the soreness but they have got to be resilient and strong enough to deal with that disappointment and go again.
Winger Aiden McGeady made the startling revelation earlier in the week that he has been playing with a broken foot for a number of games. The Irishman suffered a fractured bone in his foot during the 3-0 victory over Accrington at the start of the month. Since then, he has featured in three games including a man of the match performance against Doncaster Rovers.
McGeady is expected to keep his place against Portsmouth, but should he not recover in time the returning Chris Maguire will be itching to get into the starting line-up. Sunderland have an almost fully-fit squad with only long-term absentee Duncan Watmore still on the sidelines.
Ross has a big call to make on Saturday as to whether to stick with the same XI that performed well against Doncaster and for large periods of the Peterborough game.
If he does it will mean Alim Ozturk and Jimmy Dunne continue their partnership in the centre of defence, while Lewis Morgan and Charlie Wyke will look to build on the positive form they have shown recently.
View from the opposition...
Portsmouth arrive on Wearside with the scent of promotion in their nostrils and a throbbing lust for an away fixture at Blackburn Rovers in February 2020.
After royally stacking it at the turn of the year, they have found form at the most annoying time possible and are on a run of eight wins in nine. They have the best away record in the league - racking up 44 points from 22 games - and will be full of confidence ahead of their Stadium of Light showdown.
Manager Kenny Jackett has already triumphed over Sunderland twice this season with a 3-1 victory at Fratton Park in December and that penalty shoot-out win in the Checkatrade Trophy final in March.
Should Portsmouth return to the Championship this season it will mark Jackett’s third promotion from this level after guiding both Millwall and Wolverhampton Wanderers to creamy League One success.
The Pompey boss is hoping to have the trio of Andy Cannon, Bryn Morris and Dion Donohue available for Saturday’s match to give the South Coast side more options from the bench. Midfielder Donohue has been missing for the past month with a groin complaint. Striker Omar Bogle has been ruled out after picking up an injury against Burton Albion on Good Friday.
Jackett appealed for his calm in his squad before Saturday’s huge game:
The players have applied themselves well all season.
We need to be calm and focus on our own performance.
It’s a big game that we’re all looking forward to.
Sunderland are a very big club and I expect a huge atmosphere on Saturday.
Last Time We Met
It feels a little too fresh in the memory of Sunderland and Portsmouth’s last meeting.
Over 85,000 supporters crammed in Wembley Stadium to watch a pulsating Checkatrade Trophy final. Olly Hawkins broke collective Mackem hearts by lashing in the decisive penalty which handed Kenny Jackett’s side the silverware.
Portsmouth have an excellent recent record against Sunderland.
They are unbeaten in their last eight fixtures and last tasted defeat on Wearside in 2008 when two Kieran Richardson goals gave Roy Keane’s Black Cats a 2-0 win.