Yesterday’s result basically confirmed that Sunderland will have to participate in the play-offs if they’re going to get promoted back to the Championship this season.
Jack Ross wasn’t looking too far ahead in his post match comments, instead preferring to focus on the fact we have two league games left, but ultimately it won’t matter too much what happens when we face Fleetwood and Southend. Sure, our league finish could be a deciding factor in how we fare once the play-offs begin, but ultimately Sunderland have to be confident that they’ll have enough to beat whoever finishes in those three other spots.
And I am confident, strangely. I think we deserved to win at Peterborough and deserved to win against Portsmouth, and that in both games our performances should give us heart that we’ve got enough about us to dominate anyone over two legs.
Our record against the current top six this season is decent - played 10, won 4, drew five, lost one. We’re the toughest team to beat in that sense from the top six and that makes us, in my opinion, the club to avoid over two legs when the play-offs begin.
I understand why people are disappointed that we didn’t do enough to finish top two - I don’t think you’ll find a Sunderland fan who isn’t, particularly after the fantastic start we had to the season that had us all thinking we’d win the league.
But, we’ve got another stab at promotion via the least favourable route. Whatever happens in the final few games, I still think Sunderland are the club everyone will want to avoid - and that hands us a huge advantage.
Sunderland’s man of the match yesterday for me was Alim Ozturk, a player who came under significant criticism earlier in the season after some dubious performances in the opening weeks of the campaign. To see the way he’s not only improved his fitness but his fortunes is commendable and a nod towards the type of character that the lad clearly is.
He could have probably pushed to leave in January or kicked up a fuss cos he wasn’t even considered worthy of a place in the squad for the most-part, but to his credit he’s kept his head down and waited for a chance. And, when it’s came, he’s grasped it with both hands.
One of the biggest complaints regarding Sunderland’s defence this season - from me, anyways - has been the complete disregard for ensuring we get the basics right first and foremost. Winning headers, winning our physical battles, clearing the ball away from danger, holding our shape - these are all things that the first-choice pairing of Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin have struggled to do to an acceptable level on a consistent basis.
So with that in mind it was nice to see Ozturk and Flanagan play in a manner that you expect all half-decent defenders to do - they won most of their battles, worked hard, stayed organised and gave the midfield and attack in front of them the confidence to do what they’re good at.
I couldn’t let this pass without noting the abhorrence of the behaviour of the Portsmouth fan who thought it was a good idea to throw a smoke-bomb from the away end down to the home supporters.
After Coventry fans pelted Sunderland supporters with bottles and coins, this was another black mark against the inadequate security that the club have in place at the SOL.
Clearly not enough is being done to search people who are bringing these items into the ground and that needs to be addressed. The club probably need to look at ways they can prevent items actually going over the edge and into the supporters below - short of moving the away fans (which we know isn’t happening next season) they need something temporary in place, like netting or caging.