Sunderland’s penultimate game of the season has confined them to the play-offs and confirmed Luton and Barnsley’s promotion to the Championship.
Ironically, had we held onto our first-half lead at Fleetwood we would have overtaken Portsmouth (who also lost to Peterborough) and still would have had a mathematical chance of promotion. But just as in 1998, our penultimate game was the one which put the final nail in the coffin. Our faltering run-in has been less than impressive and if it’s momentum which decides the play-off victors, then Sunderland fans best look away now.
In 1998, we lost our penultimate game 2-0 away to Ipswich, which meant that all Forest and Boro had to do was match us for points on the final day and they would go up automatically. That year draws were our let down again with twelve stalemates compared to ten each for the top two.
This year the draws - particularly from winning positions - have been particularly galling. 19 games have been drawn. Luton and Barnsley have drawn six games less, have lost two more, but maybe it’s better to lose more and draw less. Portsmouth have drawn even fewer, with 12.
A month ago I reviewed the April we were about to have - eight games in a month and how the two-week rest period prior to the Checkatrade final would be very much needed.
Did the fixture build-up hamper the team? Out of the eight games, only three were won. Three were drawn and we doubled our number of losses for the season by contriving to lose two games. That was not expected.
The momentum factor has to be the most concerning. Going into the play-offs the team has drawn two, lost two and won one. Before their draw with us, Portsmouth had won their previous seven games - though they did lose at home to Peterborough last night.
Charlton have won six and lost one of their last seven games. It’s looking likely that we’ll play Charlton on the semi-final - the only unknown is whether we play them at home in the first leg or second.
That would leave Portsmouth playing either Doncaster or Peterborough in the other semi-final. Would Portsmouth fancy another meeting with the Posh as soon after succumbing to them?
And would we be able to overcome Charlton in the semis? It’s looking increasingly forlorn and I’m afraid my prediction is for another season in the third tier. I don’t think we’ll even reach Wembley. The team looks bereft of ideas and the manager has resorted to calling out his players in public. Never a good sign.
At first I thought we might have a repeat of 1998 with a meeting with the Addicks at Wembley and a chance to settle an old score. But I don’t see it happening. Sorry.