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Talking Points: The one thing that Sunderland have that gives them an advantage in the play-offs

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We’re all feeling despondent right now about the chances of Sunderland going up after a terrible run of results, but the promotion experience we have at our disposal should, in theory, give us half a chance of winning next Saturday.

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Not feeling it?

WOOOOOOAH! PLAY-OFFS, BABY!

Nah.

You’re aren’t quite feeling it just yet, are you?

My big worry going into the game at Southend was that if we didn’t turn up and give a performance that showed we mean business that it’d be difficult to get the fans up for the play-offs - and, low and behold, the lads were absolutely terrible, which hasn’t exactly set pulses racing across Wearside ahead of Saturday night’s massive game at home to Portsmouth.

So whilst fans of every other club in the play-off mix will be well up for what lies ahead, for some Sunderland supporters it feels a bit like competing for the wooden spoon.

So much energy was invested in backing the team as they aimed for a top two spot but unfortunately we just weren’t good enough. To make matters worse we finished the season in 5th place in the League One table - the lowest league position in our history.

For the club this week perhaps the best approach from a PR perspective is less talk, more action. Visually appealing social media campaigns are fantastic when you’re winning games but after the run we’ve had it’d probably make more sense to just do our talking out on the pitch.

The fans need a reason to believe again - and those in attendance on Saturday night will turn up expecting to see far more effort and desire from the players and the manager than we’ve seen in weeks. We’ve been patient, but now they need to perform.

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Defending, again...

The defending. The... de...fend...ing... it’s, well, indefensible.

I actually don’t want to dwell too much on this performance and result. The fact I’ve waited until a Monday morning to write this pretty much says it all - I’ve actually tried to avoid even talking about it since the final whistle blew on Saturday night.

We’ve been really poor at the back for most of this season and while we can sit here all day and bemoan the fact our defenders aren’t good enough, the fact is that standing between this club and a place in the Championship are our central defenders and whether they decide that they can concentrate better than they’ve been able to all season.

I’m actually happy with Alim Ozturk, and think that since he was put back in the team that he’s been an unusually calming figure in our back line. The best combo at our disposal is, in my opinion, Ozturk and Dunne. Quite why Dunne lost his place to Tom Flanagan is beyond me - Flanagan is far too inconsistent and perhaps the most unreliable of all the defenders we have, and it would be suicide from Ross to pick him again on Saturday when you consider the utter chaos Ollie Hawkins seems to cause whenever he comes up against him.

The fact that we’re actually past the initial 46 game season and still we don’t know what our best back four is perhaps explains just why we’re sat in 5th and not 1st in League One. Defensive recruitment in both windows was poor, and Ross has spent the last three months trying every possible combination of players that he can without actually stumbling upon one that works.

Whoever he picks on Saturday to play together have to be the same pairing throughout the remainder of the games, because his tactical indecisiveness may not be the root cause for why Sunderland concede so many goals but needlessly changing the defence certainly has not helped.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Picking the players up

I think as fans we have a right to expect more from this group of players. The experience that they have - both of being promoted from this league and from playing at a higher level - means that we should at the least know how to manage games properly.

  • Jon McLaughlin was promoted with Burton
  • Tom Flanagan was promoted with Burton
  • Lee Cattermole and Bryan Oviedo were both signed in the Premier League
  • Aiden McGeady and Adam Matthews have played Champions League football and won league titles with Celtic
  • Grant Leadbitter was Middlesbrough captain in the top flight and has numerous promotions to his name
  • Luke O’Nien was promoted with Wycombe last season
  • Will Grigg, Reece James and Max Power were promoted with Wigan last season
  • Jimmy Dunne was promoted with Accrington last season
  • Lewis Morgan was promoted with St Mirren last season
  • Jack Ross was promoted with St Mirren last season

That’s an enormous wealth of experience, in every single position, that I imagine no other side in the division have in their possession.

So, now is the time to use that to our advantage - to forget that the last few weeks even happened, and to stop f*cking moaning about the fact we ballsed automatic promotion up.

There’s no masking the failures of this season but until all is said and done there’s no real point in dwelling on them. Sunderland can still be promoted. We can still get ourselves to that Wembley final, and all we have to do is turn up on Saturday night and give ourselves the best possible chance of going into that second game at Fratton Park with a big advantage.

Writing this has been therapeutic. I started out miserable as sin and now I’m actually looking forward to next Saturday. As the saying goes: it’s the hope I can’t stand. And no matter how miserable you feel right now, you just know that should we turn up next Saturday and give a promising performance that we’ll all be believing again.

For as long as we have that belief we can be dangerous.