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Peterborough United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - Weston Homes Stadium

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Taking It To The Wire: Sunderland are right in the mix with eight games remaining!

“The external noise may be getting louder, but Lee Johnson and his core of on-field leaders are ensuring that the Lads keep their focus to allow the promotion bandwagon to gather momentum” writes Philip West as he assesses our Easter weekend results.

Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Four points from six over the Easter weekend as a result of two tricky games, and the expectation is beginning to rise and the nerves of the type that only promotion chases can generate, are starting to fray.

The external noise may be getting louder, but Lee Johnson and his core of on-field leaders are ensuring that the Lads keep their focus to allow the promotion bandwagon to gather momentum.

Given where we were when he took charge, we’ve done an admirable job of chasing down the league’s pace-setters, but this season has plenty of twists to come yet.

Ultimately, we navigated our way through the two matches and emerged in a position of strength. We haven’t made huge gains, but perhaps more crucially, we haven’t lost any ground, either.

Amid all the talk of hypothetical transfer budgets and who might make the cut if and when we reach the Championship, we still have a job to do. If we do achieve our aim, there is no doubt it will have been hard-earned.

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

Of course, had we not endured such a wretched run of home form last autumn, where points were dropped with regularity, the picture would look very different. But that’s history now. We are right in the mix, and that’s all we could’ve asked for as the campaign heads towards its final stages.

If the Oxford game, and all of its off-field shenanigans, was a puzzle we eventually solved to the tune of a 3-1 victory, the game against Peterborough was an altogether more edgy affair.

Lee Johnson deployed a distinctly retro 4-4-2, and opted for a Charlie Wyke/Ross Stewart axis upfront. This was presumably an attempt to play in a more route-one style and nullify the variable of a pitch, which in terms of performance, resulted in a bit of a mixed bag.

Midfield control, particularly in the first half, was attained surprisingly easily with Grant Leadbitter and Carl Winchester afforded ample time to keep things ticking over, but that breakthrough goal didn’t come. Even the quicksilver Jordan Jones found the going tough, as Peterborough’s defenders made his life extremely difficult with a variety of rough challenges.

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

The second half was far more uncomfortable for those in red and white. Peterborough began to gain a foothold in midfield, and eventually, the pressure told, as Siriki Dembele slotted the ball past Lee Burge after a superbly-weighted pass from Nathan Thompson.

We found ourselves a goal down, a little bit on the ropes and the plans were in danger of being torn to shreds.

This Sunderland team, fortunately, has a plentiful reserve of resilience nowadays, and as the clock began to tick down, McGeady stepped up to curl home a sumptuous free-kick following a foul on substitute Josh Scowen.

Judging by his level of performance and his tone in interviews, you get the sense that McGeady is turning the promotion challenge into his own personal mission. After a tumultuous couple of years for the Irishman, helping us to seal a return to the second tier would be the sweetest reward of them all.

As ever, there are positives and negatives to take away from this double-header. The return of Denver Hume was as welcome a sight as we’ve had for a long time, Dion Sanderson is flourishing at the heart of our defence, and Winchester’s influence continues to grow in midfield.

Peterborough United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - Weston Homes Stadium Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

On the other side of the coin, his largely ineffectual display against Peterborough suggests that Ross Stewart is not fully up to speed, and Charlie Wyke has definitely hit a dry spell following his remarkable recent exploits.

It certainly isn’t a cause for alarm, and perhaps an extended run in the team for Aiden O’Brien will help Wyke to rediscover his touch in front of goal.

So, with eight games left to play, how are we shaping up in the chase for a top-two berth?

I still think the overall picture is positive and it was crucial that we kept our unbeaten run going over the Bank Holiday. This, vitally, keeps our destiny in our own hands. That said, there is no doubt that our margin for error, in terms of dropped points, is thinning.

Will the teams around us stumble? Will we need a ‘Carlos Edwards vs Burnley’ moment at some stage?

Nothing should surprise us. It has been a surreal season in so many ways, but Sunderland have undoubtedly shown in the last couple of months that they have what it takes to ensure that the battle for Championship football will go right down to the wire.

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