Monday’s draw with Peterborough changed very little for Sunderland in our quest for automatic promotion. There were mixed feelings among fans as to whether this was a good result for the lads or if it was a missed opportunity.
I tend to lean towards the former. In reality, what were we expecting? Peterborough are a fine side. They have an abundance of quality, especially in the attacking third - which they have displayed and demonstrated in recent weeks, most notably against Accrington.
A draw leaves everything in our own hands. The margin for error is possibly a little thinner than it was before Monday’s game. With Hull City continuing on their fine run of form and having the benefit of a nicer run in, it is imperative that we keep the pace up.
A few weeks ago, if you had asked me if I fancied our chances in the play offs, I would have said yes with complete assurance. However, as things stand currently, I would be a little more apprehensive.
This is not supposed to be a negative piece or a sign of a supposed ‘losing mentality’ but more of an acknowledgment of what we need to be looking out for in these final stages.
As it stands, in the play off places, there is currently Sunderland, Portsmouth, Blackpool and Lincoln. A competitive bunch. Arguably more competitive than it has been in a couple of years.
Excluding the case of Lincoln, the trajectory of the three other teams is extremely upwards. We are all aware of our success under Lee Johnson. Portsmouth, under the Cowleys, are on a four match winning run also. However the team that are frightening this writer the most is the team we have to play twice in the run in - Blackpool.
Since his appointment in March last year, Neil Critchley has performed a stellar job with the Tangerines. With a win percentage of just under 44% and only two defeats since November, they are certainly a force to be reckoned with. He appears to have assembled a squad that look primed for a play-off challenge.
There is an excellent blend of experienced football league players such as Everton youth product Luke Garbutt and Grant Ward mixed in with youthful players who are making their way in the game such as 21-year-old defender Daniel Ballard who is on loan from Arsenal and already has 5 caps for his country and our very own Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson.
Their attacking approach cannot be sniffed at. Not only are they beating teams, but they are scoring goals for fun. If you look at all competitions, on 18 occasions, they have managed to score two or more goals in the game. This is largely thanks to striker Jerry Yates who has shown form this season that he has never shown before with his 18 goals.
In recent weeks, they beat Wigan 5-0, Peterborough 3-1 and Gillingham 4-1.
In terms of their form and record against the top teams, Blackpool’s is as good as any in the league. They have taken maximum of the six points on offer against Peterborough and Portsmouth and are unbeaten against Hull recording a win and a draw. Certainly a record to be aware of.
While we are in an excellent position and favourites for the league with many bookmakers, there is no doubt that this month is a massive one for Sunderland and Lee Johnson. We have put ourselves in a fantastic place with our form and are certainly as formidable for Blackpool as they are for us.
Of course, we have the games in hand and big matches against Charlton and Hull also but with two games against one of the most in form teams in the league within weeks of each other, you just think if we can pick up wins against Blackpool, the champagne bottles will be out on May 8th.