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Is promotion still a realistic target for Sunderland?

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By the time we resume action in League One, we could be in the bottom half of the table. We ask our panel if they still believe promotion is still attainable this season - let us know your thoughts!

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Rich Speight says...

Games in hand are not points on the board, and as it stands, the League One table looks pretty depressing. But, as horrible as it is to know that people at the club including some of our players are sick with covid-19, we’re far from the only League side to have an enforced Christmas break, and it will be important for the squad not to get downhearted by the gap between us and the promotion places until the games played column is level.

The timing of this hiatus might well work in our favour in the long term, giving Lee Johnson the opportunity to take stock of his squad and plan recruitment for January, which might compensate for the hectic schedule to come.

Unless there’s a big decision made by the EFL to extend the season or even cancel the Pizza Trophy, we’ll be playing every Saturday and Tuesday from January through to May - I can only find three free Tuesdays in the schedule, assuming we progress through to the Trophy final.

It will be a punishing few months, but we have one of the deepest squads at this level and I am still a believer that with a couple of quality additions, in the remaining two thirds of the campaign we can push on and get into the top two before we entertain Northampton on the final day.

Oldham Athletic v Sunderland: Papa John’s Trophy
Aiden McGeady in action for Sunderland in the EFL Trophy at Oldham Athletic - will progress in the competition hinder our League One form?
Photo by Eddie Garvey/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Philip West says...

I have no doubt that, by the time Sunderland’s League One campaign resumes (assuming the entire league hasn’t been postponed by that time, a distinct possibility given the steady stream of COVID outbreaks across the league), we will be facing a hugely difficult task in trying to grab ourselves a ticket to the Championship.

Assuming the teams in and around us capitalise on our absence from action, we could be staring at a sizeable points deficit to the top six, and the temptation to let our heads drop and plan for yet another season in this league may loom ever larger.

Still, the ambition must remain, to achieve promotion by any and all means, and I’m quite sure that Lee Johnson will be hellbent on delivering it. Before we fell victim to the pandemic, there were some definite green shoots of recovery visible, and hopefully when we return, it’ll be with a fit squad and clear vision of how we’d like to play for the remainder of the season.

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference
Will lee Johnson and Kristjaan Speakman be able to execute their plans this January?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Do I believe we can be one of the three teams planning for life in the Championship next summer? Not without some January additions, and the construction of the kind of winning run that we haven’t put together for quite some time.

Come January, it will be a mad, all-out dash towards the season’s finishing line, and I expect our squad depth to be tested to the max. If we can shift some of the deadwood and bring in an injection of pace and predatory finishing, then the picture may change. Granted, we will have plenty of games in hand in the New Year, but we’ve been there before, and failed to capitalise.

There needs to be a ruthlessness about the team when 2021 arrives, and I hope that the likes of Leadbitter, Wright, Willis, and the returning Aiden McGeady can help to set this kind of tone. Promotion is a long shot, without a doubt, but given the generally atrocious quality of the league, three or four strong results could suddenly give us genuine reason to be upbeat once again.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Will Aiden McGeady’s return to action for Sunderland help in our bid for promotion?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

After being forced to field a very changed XI for the game against Wimbledon, I think the deferral of games was the right thing to do, and it arguably should have included that game, as has been much discussed.

I am however a bit in two minds about how this will impact us. Historically we have been poor at converting games in hand into points, but there is a difference here and that is we are now finally moving towards a team identity, a playing style and tactics that all can understand over time but do need time to settle into.

If the coach can use the isolation time to get the squad as tactically astute as possible and assuming that can be put onto the pitch in later weeks, then the points per game we get for the delayed fixtures is highly likely to improve.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Sunderland were forced to field a much changed side last time out against AFC Wimbledon
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The league table is going to be a mess for some time, and a number of clubs are all in the same boat. Without suspension for all twenty-four sides, the impact will linger for a while. I also think it is important we don’t worry too much about where we are in the table, as I would rather see us all get behind the coach and the lads and drive them on with the new ethos if we can see the progression.

This is arguably the biggest change in football identity for many years at our club, and if this comes off we could well have a solution to getting back up the leagues, so my suggestion is we stay calm, keep our eyes on the long term prize and hope that what Johnson and Speakman are trying to do comes off for all our benefit.