What a damp squib of an end of season. Who would have thought we were neck and neck with Barnsley until the 39th game of the campaign and had our fate in our own hands? After our home draw with Burton we weren’t overly concerned, especially as the Brewers had just beaten Barnsley on the Friday night prior to our Tuesday draw.
The difference, though, has been the different reactions to the Burton results by us and the South Yorkshire club. Barnsley won their remaining games in April (only four mind) and we won only one more since that 9th of April game. Barnsley did lose their final game at Bristol Rovers, but that was after promotion to the Championship was already confirmed for them.
Our fixture pile up confirmed April as the cruelest month for us - seeing us win three, draw three and lose two (after we had only lost two prior to that all season). The final nail in the coffin was a limp performance at relegation-threatened Southend, which saw us succumb 2-1.
The old song during the Reid era was “2-1, we always win 2-1”, but now it should now be “2-1, we always lose 2-1” as three of our five defeats have been by that scoreline. That three of those defeats should come in the final six games does not bode well for the play-offs.
The run-in is what Sunderland have been very good at in recent years (before back to back relegations). Even last season’s valedictory game saw off champions Wolves 3-0.
We did lose the final three games when we were relegated from the Premier League, but it is hard to understand how a team competing for automatic promotion can have messed things up in the run in so much as they have done.
Was the Checkatrade trophy an unwanted distraction? Perhaps, though it hasn’t had the same effect on our opponents, Portsmouth.
Some have cited the change in style of play from cavalier go-getters to cautious, timid and frightened to take the game to our opponents.
The Wikipedia page on our season colour codes results. Green equals a win, yellow, a draw and red a defeat. Until our 16th game at Plymouth on 3rd November we had won ten, drawn five and lost only one. And until the end of the year when we reached 23 games we added three wins, three draws and a single defeat.
It’s after New year when the colour of the screen becomes predominately yellow. Was the defining factor the loss of Josh Maja? Did we fail to prepare for his loss or not do enough to keep him?
That said, we’re constantly told that one man doesn’t make a team.
I know this is not the time for inquests, but that January transfer window is where the wheels did seem to come off our season. Now we are limping into a play-off semi-final against a team we have already played three times this season and failed to beat on any occasion.
Unless Jack Ross transforms the mentality of the team in some Roy of the Rovers style fashion, I can’t see how we can turn this around. Momentum is the key factor in the play-offs, we are constantly told. Well, we have all the momentum of a cross-channel ferry in choppy waters - and the outlook isn’t good.
Or maybe reverse psychology will work. Whereas previously we had gone into such situations all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and expectant, this time we are ravaged by past experiences of been there and failed.
Did anyone mention hope? I can’t stand it!