Sunderland (fav) 2/1, Lincoln 7/2, Blackpool 7/2
Pompey 6/1, Oxford 12/1, Charlton 14/1
It’s sometimes like torture watching Sunderland.
We huffed and puffed, created chances, had plenty of the ball... and yet somehow lost. It felt like Blackpool’s only chance, if you could even call it that, was smacked into the top corner by Kaikai, and they somehow stole the win.
I think we can categorise a lot of our games this season - tight, scrappy, difficult to watch at times, and usually not much in it. It feels like these games were the ones we were edging just six or seven weeks ago. Now the boot is on the other foot - no pun intended. We’re finding ways to lose games and our form has gone from superb to shocking in what seems like no time.
I always think that the team with a bit of momentum and confidence usually has the best chance in the play-offs - Charlton Athletic two years ago are an excellent example. They won eight of their last 10 matches and then deservedly beat us in the final.
But, I believe a crumb of comfort can be taken from the fact that we aren’t the only inconsistent team that are pushing for a play-off place. Let's have a look at the others.
The Favourites: Lincoln City
So Lincoln were hot, cold and now they’re starting to heat up again - in direct contrast to ourselves. In the early part of the season they were top of the league, and going great guns in the autumn.
Despite an unexpected 4-0 battering courtesy of the lads in red and white in December, they continued to win games and were top in January. Then they hit a wall - three wins in 12 through February and March meant they were clinging on to the top six.
Now, all of a sudden, they are grinding out wins for fun. With four wins in five, they are two points above us, and with a game in hand they look nailed on to finish third. They would have the least pedigree of the teams around the play-offs, but are in the best form.
The ‘Pain In The Arse’: Blackpool
Of course, they have ground out two scruffy wins over Sunderland in the past few weeks, but they are as inconsistent as we are too. The two victories over us are the only two wins in their last six matches.
Their season has slowly gathered pace. Bottom in the early stages, they moved into mid-table over the halfway point then took advantage of their games in hand to move into contention.
When they triumphed over us at Bloomfield Road, they were in an ideal position to cement their position in the play-offs, but then preceded to lose to two bottom-half teams. Rochdale and Shrewsbury both beat the Tangerines, and put a real dent in their charge.
They have a fantastic play-offs record - the best in fact with five wins, but they look far from clear favourites.
The Auld Enemy: Portsmouth
Our little mini-battle against Portsmouth has cooled down slightly in recent times, probably due to the lack of fans at games, but they are never very far away. They could be called South Sunderland - a bigger-than-average club at this level, with a passionate fanbase that seems to fail time after time at the crucial stage.
Our record against them has been hit and miss - we’ve had a win and a loss against them this season, and then a Wembley defeat, play-off win and a few other tight games in recent years. It seems we cannot quite escape them at this level.
This season they’ve never really got going. Despite going top for one match in December, a poor run over Christmas and New Year cost Kenny Jackett his job. New boss Danny Cowley has got things back on track for the play-offs.
Their recent form is only slightly better than ours, with one win in six, and they dropped crucial points during the week, conceding late on in a 3-3 draw with Accrington Stanley.
I told you they were like us!
The Bogey Team: Charlton Athletic
I know, I know...
Charlton. Play-Offs. Wembley.
We’ve all got the bad memories, and I’m not going to bring them up again.
Two years ago they surged into the play-offs late on, and this time, they’re starting to pick up speed again, albeit slightly less emphatically.
They were 10th shortly before beating us at the Stadium of Light, and we were third and on the cusp of breaking into the top two. After that, they put a few results together and looked set to take our place in third, but then have had a bit of a wobble.
They’ve picked up only one win in four matches, but the win itself was even more difficult to understand - walloping Plymouth Argyle 6-0 away from home, they then lost to Peterborough United, and dropped points late on at home to Doncaster Rovers.
With a tough last three matches (Dangerous Accrington Stanley, Lincoln City and Hull City) They have a bit of work to do, but you’d definitely not find a Sunderland fan that wants to play them in the play-offs for a third time.
The Outsiders: Oxford United
Whilst Oxford are dark horses to even be in the play-offs, they have to be given a mention. Karl Robinson might have sulked when we beat them at the SOL recently, but they are the team with the potential to cause upsets.
If they were to win their last two league matches and sneak over the line, then they may just grasp the opportunity and get promotion to the Championship.
Of course, our form is terrible and confidence is very low at the moment. It’s hard to really stake a claim for Sunderland turning things around and winning the play-offs. Some might not even think we will make the play-offs... and some might not even want to get there.
I do feel, however, if there’s any comfort to be had it’s that this is a hugely inconsistent league. The fans of the clubs mentioned will more than likely have exactly the same fears as we have about our team, and the unpredictability of the play-offs make it impossible to call.