Our 1-1 home draw with fellow promotion hopefuls Portsmouth effectively consigned Sunderland to a place the League One play-offs which begin in a few weeks.
Sunderland’s game away to Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town was meant to feel more important than it does. What looked set to be a season-defining match a few weeks ago is now a bit of a dead rubber - barring an absolute miracle stretch of results elsewhere, of course.
That said, Jack Ross and the boys will want to win their remaining games to give us the best chance of finishing third and, ultimately, the best chance of reaching Wembley.
State of play...
As stated above, our position in the play-offs is cemented and has been for some weeks, but our chances of automatic promotion are all but mathematically over. Our back to back 1-1 draws away to Peterborough United and at home to Portsmouth put paid to that, with the majority of fans now accepting we’ll have an extended season via the play-offs.
We currently sit two points behind third place Portsmouth and are level on points with fifth placed Charlton Athletic. If Portsmouth win they would go level on points in second if they also win tonight against Peterborough, whereas we would need to match their result to have any chance of catching them - we’d also pull three points clear of Charlton with a win and would effectively secure fourth place due to our far superior goal difference.
Jack Ross Says...
We’ll look how everyone is physically ahead of Fleetwood, with the games coming round so quickly. But we want to win so that we go into the last weekend still with that opportunity. Of course, we understand it is a long shot, but we want to finish the season in the best possible way.
We still have an outside chance of achieving what we to automatically, albeit a long shot. But the only way that even becomes a possibility is if we win our game in hand on Tuesday.
It’s nice to have Chris Maguire back. To suffer a leg break so late in the season, there’s always that fear he won’t play again in the season, so to have him available is a real bonus. He’s a good option for us to have off the bench, because he’s someone who can give us that little bit of spark.
Aiden McGeady has been playing through the pain barrier, suffering with a broken foot since the 3-0 win over Accrington Stanley, so with Chris Maguire returning to full fitness he may be rested, allowing Maguire to gain some much needed match fitness heading into the play-offs.
Manager Jack Ross has indicated that he won’t be making wholesale changes, so it’s expected that Tom Flanagan will remain at the heart of the defence alongside the increasingly impressive Alim Ozturk. Luke O’Nien picked up a knock late in the game against Portsmouth and was replaced by Adam Matthews, but it doesn’t appear to be a nasty one and he is likely to remain at right-back.
George Honeyman - despite being the first man hooked against Pompey - is expected to continue in the number ten role, with Maguire likely to replace McGeady if anyone, as stated above.
The only other potential change could come in the midfield, with Grant Leadbitter kicking his heels on the bench since last month’s Checkatrade Final defeat a potential change in the engine room. However, a man of the match performance from Max Power on Saturday and the experience of Lee Cattermole is most likely going to be Ross’ preferred option.
View from the opposition...
Joey Barton’s team have fizzled out gradually this season and have nothing to play for as they face their final home game of the season. Without a win in five, Fleetwood sit bang in the middle of the table in twelfth and can climb no higher than ninth, effectively meaning their season has ended.
Their form is poor, with defeats at Barnsley and Blackpool sitting alongside uninspiring draws at home to Southend and Bristol Rovers. It would be fair to say they are the epitome of a mid-table League One side sleepwalking to the end of the season.
They’ve won just two of the last ten home games, but make no mistake about it, the parody that is Joey Barton will be desperate to get one over on us and send us into the extended season with a grumpy attitude.
He’ll have to hope there’s no punch ups in the tunnel on Tuesday with Jack Ross in the opposition dugout. Dealing with someone from the West Coast of Scotland is far different to having a go at a mild-mannered German. You’ve been warned, Joey.
Last Time We Met
This will be Sunderland’s first ever visit to the Highbury Stadium, with the two sides facing each other for the first time in history early in the season on 8th September.
Believe it or not, that game was a 1-1 draw - we don’t happen to see many of those do we? Josh Maja grabbed our equaliser against the run of play following an impressive first half from the Lancashire club that saw striker Paddy Madden nod the Cherry Reds into the lead.