I never thought I’d see the day when I was happy that Sunderland weren’t playing, but that was very much the case this week.
In recent times the football has been relentless. Post-Christmas we seem to have been playing two games a week constantly. The league campaign has been rushed through and when you add in the successful ‘Pizza Cup’ campaign, it’s been non-stop.
Against Lincoln last week, I felt it caught up with our players slightly.
Of course, it’s helped us in ways as well - the momentum we’ve gained has been fantastic. We’ve shot up the table in recent weeks and the excitement has grown. Against Lincoln however, it seemed a game too far.
Physical tiredness was clear to see. The players intensity wasn’t there when pressing the opposition, the speed and movement on the ball wasn’t quite to scratch and the energy had dipped. Not only that, mentally the players looked drained. Perhaps ending the Wembley hoodoo and the late win against Accrington had taken its toll.
With a full week to recover, rest (just a little bit though) and prepare for Bristol Rovers, there can be no excuses for not turning up. We should be raring to go.
It’s often the teams with the biggest and strongest squads that successfully navigate their way through the final weeks. In recent weeks our options have started to open up a little bit.
Where Charlie Wyke was the only option up front, we now have Ross Stewart in contention. Options in attacking midfield could feature any three from Aiden McGeady, Aiden O’Brien, Jack Diamond, Lyndon Gooch or Chris Maguire. Injured players like Jordan Jones, Bailey Wright and Denver Hume should also be coming back just in time. The rotation and strength in depth will surely be a major plus point for us in the run-in as deal with pressure-games and tired bodies and minds.
It seems all of the teams are around us, bar Hull, are badly wobbling. First Doncaster Rovers and Portsmouth were losing games, then Lincoln City had a rough spell. It’s now Peterborough United who are stuttering and we must take advantage down at the Memorial Stadium today.
Our opponents find themselves right in the middle of a relegation battle. They’ve only won two of the last 10 matches and are lying just outside the relegation zone. Last season’s 2-0 defeat there was the last game before lockdown and (with a bit of help from PPG) it killed our Play-Off hopes. The year before it was a happier visit - the win that sealed our place at Wembley in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Their recent sacking of Paul Tisdale means that we are brought face to face with our old friend and pantomime villain Joey Barton. The allo-allo impersonating wind-up merchant will surely be raring his team up to get one over on his favourite teams. Dislike him we may, but he always seems to get his teams playing well against us.
Maybe we’re due to wipe the smug grin off his face.
With a freshly invigorated team and automatic promotion firmly within our grasp, we simply have to produce a performance and result at Bristol Rovers and get a crucial three points.
Let's go and take the opportunity.