Last night’s deflating 2-1 defeat to midtable Fleetwood Town officially put an end to Sunderland’s slim chances of automatic promotion - a massive kick in the teeth to those of us who felt that we’d have the resources and squad to go up automatically.
It is an old cliché in football that the league table doesn’t lie, and it couldn’t be more fitting than when applied to Sunderland’s current predicament.
We can talk about the draws and the failure to turn up in the second half of seemingly every match in the last two months until the cows come home, but the fighting attitude which was so prevalent for most of the campaign has drained.
The inability to decide whether to go in for the kill or shut up shop when taking the lead has been painfully obvious in almost all the 19 draws registered so far this year. It has affirmed that any last gasp push for the automatics has been an uphill struggle.
If you had to pick a best example out of this plethora of stalemates, the trip to Peterborough on Easter Monday is surely up there.
It was never going to be an easy stroll to automatic promotion, despite what some had predicted, but to miss out on the top two in the manner that we have has been soul destroying.
Just over three weeks ago, after the 2-1 win at Rochdale, we were level on points with Barnsley with two games in hand. Since then we have stumbled over the line lethargically in nearly every match. We’ve kept in touch almost all season but never produced the red-hot form which has seen the sides up there with us seal promotion with a game to spare.
The argument that we are too good not to go up no longer holds any weight.
The prospect of finishing in a playoff position has been on the minds of supporters since it was mathematically confirmed we could finish no lower.
A better scenario would be that of Sunderland gearing up for the playoffs with some form and momentum behind them, yet three wins out of the last ten is far from encouraging - especially so when you consider that in the same period of matches Charlton have won eight and conceded just five goals.
Failing to win promotion back to the Championship would be a blow, but not quite as devastating as people think. Let’s be frank, few fans can admit that we have regularly been good enough this season to merit a place in the second tier.
Just thinking hypothetically for a moment - do we have the resources to build a squad good enough to stay in the Championship? If we do fail to get out of League One then the answer must unequivocally be no.
With one game remaining in the regular season, Sunderland have one last chance to head into the lottery of the playoffs with some semblance of momentum. Facing Southend will be tough and not least because they need a win to secure their status in the league. For ourselves, a win would do nicely to make sure we have the added psychological advantage of playing at home second in the playoffs.
Once the full-time whistle blows at Roots Hall on Saturday night we need to wipe the slate clean. We are in the playoffs for a reason, we simply weren’t good enough nor did we deserve automatic promotion. Winning at Wembley at the end of the month would be superb obviously, but if another year in League One is what we have coming our way then I’ll look at it as an opportunity to right the wrongs of this season and make us that bit stronger... hopefully.