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Season-defining seven days will shape Sunderland’s future

Ipswich (h), Rochdale (h), Oxford (a) - three games in seven days could make or break Sunderland promotion chances. Can the Lads solidify their promotion challenge?

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

After the disappointment of Fratton Park on Saturday, Sunderland have shown that they still have a frustrating result in them - even after a great run of form. The next three games, however, will really show the ambition of the players and manager.

Yes, fair enough, this past weekend’s game was one defeat from ten games, but the defeat to Portsmouth has shown that we cannot afford lapses in concentration against sides who are fully capable of capitalising.

Unfortunately, our upcoming fixtures are all against sides who have what it takes to exploit defensive recidivism and are able to score a goal or two themselves. Furthermore, all three games occur within 7 days.

James Norwood of Ipswich Town during the Sky Bet League One...
Norwood is Ipswich’s Top Scorer This Season
Photo by Richard Calver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

First up will be Ipswich, whom are on a run of three games without a win, but when has that ever meant anything when a side comes to Wearside for a game of football?

If there has ever been a side that are famous for ending opponents’ bad runs, it’s Sunderland. The Tractor Boys started the season looking for an immediate bounce back into the Championship, but they currently lie in fourth after a recent barren run.

Having started the season looking like they were going to steamroller the league, going eleven games unbeaten, with eight wins and three draws, Ipswich were then beaten by Accrington Stanley, which led to a dreadful run of form with three wins from fourteen.

They now appear incredibly inconsistent, with their last four games bringing two wins and two losses.

Sunderland will need to take advantage of Ipswich’s own defensive issues, as they regularly ship a goal having only kept five clean sheets in their last 18 games. For a side that are looking for automatic promotion, that is an appalling record. Had it not been for Kayden Jackson and James Norwood, Ipswich could find themselves a lot lower than fourth in the division right now.

All in all though, it’ll be a massive clash of two sides looking to get back into the Championship and my prediction is that it’ll end in a draw - though anyone could win it on the day.

Newcastle United v Rochdale AFC - FA Cup Third Round: Replay
Brian Barry-Murphy Has Rochdale Playing Good Football
Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

Next up, another side famous for their ability for upsetting the apple-cart, Rochdale. Brian Barry-Murphy has them playing a style of football that belies their league position where they currently lie in 18th.

Earlier in the season they took a relatively strong Manchester United side to penalties in the Carabao Cup having looked the more likely to win the game. They’ve also taken Newcastle Utd to a replay in the FA Cup (but that’s no real feat, is it?).

The Dale have also been sucked into a relegation battle, which will also ensure that they’ll be up for the game at the Stadium of Light next Tuesday! Their key men are Callum Camps and Ian Henderson, who are also their two top scorers in the league this season.

My early prediction for this is a handsome Sunderland win, and really this is a game we should be winning if we’re to be pushing for automatic promotion.

Oxford United v Manchester City - Carabao Cup: Quarter Final
James Henry is Oxfords Top Scorer This Season With 11.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

The third of these important three games is against Oxford United at The Kassam Stadium. They’re currently on a poor run of one win in five (which was their last game against Blackpool), but this will be our first away game after (hopefully) two wins at home.

Presently, we’re both ostensibly in the same position, teetering on the edge of the playoffs trying to push for a place in the automatic promotion spots. Karl Robinson, despite their current poor run, has The U’s playing some good football and truthfully his side have been rather unlucky.

The positives are that Oxford seem incapable of beating the sides in and around their position, having lost to Doncaster away, and Rotherham at home - two games which they needed to win if they were to be serious about their automatic promotion hopes.

I fear that this will be the toughest game of the three, especially with it being away from home, and that we’ll be lucky to come out of this with a draw. I hope I’m wrong and that we win 0-3 or something similar, but my head says this will be our third game in a week and weary legs will prevent us from playing the game we’re becoming so comfortable playing.

If we come out of this with seven points, I think that’ll be the best case scenario considering the teams we’re up against, and if we can get those seven points, we will be favourites to take one of those two automatic spots to reach the Championship.

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