Currently we are sixth in the table, six points behind Rotherham and Wycombe in first and second, with a game in hand over both. We’ve got a pretty tough run of games coming up, with Doncaster, Portsmouth, Ipswich and Oxford to play in the next month.
Put your neck on the line... do you think Sunderland will gain automatic promotion come season’s end, or are you not getting too carried away just yet?
Phil West says...
I believe that, given our positive start to 2020, and the closely-fought nature of the league, we can certainly grab an automatic promotion spot and avoid the anxiety and tension of a play-off run.
Whether we WILL finish in the top two come the end of the season is dependent upon two factors, in my opinion - a solid January transfer window, and the question of maintaining our form and building a winning run akin to what we put together between January and May 2007, when, under Roy Keane, we never looked back as we stormed up as champions.
We do need additions to the squad, which will hopefully arrive soon, and Parkinson and his players ought to stick with what is working now in terms of tactics. As we showed on Saturday we can grind out results when needed, something that any promotion-chasing team needs to show.
I fully expect the teams around us in the league to nick points off each other with regularity between now and the end of the season. It’s difficult to see one or two teams really breaking away from the lack and leaving the rest to fight for the play-off berths.
I believe that Portsmouth away, in the derby that isn’t a derby, will be key. If we can negotiate the Fratton Park minefield, we can set ourselves up nicely for the beginning of the final run in. From seemingly having no chance a matter of weeks ago, we’ve now got as good a chance as anyone of finishing in a coveted top-two spot.
Mark Carrick says...
A quick look at the table in mid-January shows a completely different situation to the one Sunderland faced in mid-December. The return of Charlie Wyke and Lynden Gooch, coupled with settled roles for Max Power and Alim Ozturk, has seen Phil Parkinson transform Sunderland’s form, and we have now won four of our last five and remain undefeated in seven.
A look at the upcoming fixtures in January and February show a tough run, on paper. In the next six weeks we play sides currently placed 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th.
Four of those are in the next month. Yet Sunderland blew Wycombe apart when they were top and a quick look at recent results suggest Parkinson has little to fear. Sunderland have amassed 13 points from the last five games whilst Doncaster have managed 9, Portsmouth 10, Ipswich 8 and Oxford a mere 5. We face Doncaster at home, having beaten them away at the start of our current run, and then Ipswich on Feb 8th.
Given our home form, there is no reason why Sunderland should not aim to grab six points from the next couple of home fixtures.
Portsmouth away could be a tricky game given their recent form and attempts to carve out a rivalry with Sunderland, but Oxford should not hold any fear given they have not won in four now and seem to be sliding down, as we climb up, the league.
Let’s suggest Sunderland secure 10 points from those games. In between a trip to Tranmere and a visit from Rochdale could add a further 6 points to the tally. That would have us on 57 points by the time Bristol Rovers rock up to the Stadium of Light on Feb 22nd.
We would have put some daylight between ourselves and a lot of the chasing pack, and we’d be closing in on the top places. Parkinson would have ensured the possibility of automatic promotion back to the Championship, which would see us in good shape going into the final stages of the season.
For this is to be possible the side needs to remain settled, certainly added to in terms of depth for the inevitable absence of key players, and the team need to retain that elusive level of consistency that top teams manage. Parkinson has won four of the last five, but defeat against these top sides in the forthcoming weeks could easily see us slip back to December levels. Our new year hope would diminish quicker than a snowman in Africa.
There is much work to do behind the scenes, but Parkinson has certainly carved out a foundation for automatic promotion that wasn’t evident even three weeks ago. I just can’t get too carried away in mid-January, but where we are by the end of February will be very telling.
Tom Albrighton says...
What seemed like a pipe dream come the end of December has now come hurtling forth into the minds of many Sunderland fans. Nobody would have predicted the upturn in form and revolution in style that has been seen since Doncaster away a few weeks ago. Will things come full circle and Doncaster put an end to a run that started at the Keepmoat?
It’s hard not to get carried away at this moment in time - as Sunderland fans, it's the hope that kills us. It’s incredibly hard to predict anything going on in League One at the moment. A volatile league, form ebbs and flows for most sides.
If I was to stick my money where my mouth is, I’d say that Sunderland won’t be in the automatic spots come the end of February, but will be poised to capitalise on any mistakes from those above.
The nature of the fixture list coming up and the current make up of the league means 10 points separate the top sides from the bottom half. In a league where almost anybody can’t beat anyone, 10 points isn’t an insurmountable gap. Because of this, many sides within spitting distance of the league summit will find themselves playing sides with their own promotion ambitions and its subsequent destiny within their own grasp. That means the sides around us are all going to drop points at some stage, it’s unavoidable.
This too means Sunderland will drop points and this is where our season will rest on a knife edge. To turn our form around from what felt like a place of no return for Parkinson post Bolton has taken mental strength and fortitude beyond the likes of which we have seen for some time. How we react to dropped points will define the final run-in of our season and ultimately decide our fate. If dropping of points doesn’t act a means to derail this sides achievements so far, we’ll be in good stead. As an alternative, if dropping points signals a return to the football seen pre-Christmas, we can wave goodbye to promotion.
In summary, I don’t think we’ll be at the summit of the table come the end of February, but playing like this we won’t be far off.