Sunderland have one of their last nine matches - is that worrying heading into the playoffs?
Sunderland ended an underwhelming league campaign with what can only be described as a disappointing 1-1 draw with Northampton at the Stadium of Light.
Despite naming a full strength lineup, the match felt very much like a pre-season friendly or a meaningless early round league cup tie.
Lee Johnson’s side struggled to properly test Northampton goalie Jonathan Mitchell and only equalised through a Jordan Jones cross which happened to fall kindly back off the post for Carl Winchester to fire home.
After such an improved display last week against Plymouth, Johnson’s team have ended the season with many fans feeling deflated.
The club still have a fantastic opportunity to achieve promotion via the playoffs, but I think the team’s poor end to the campaign has left those on Wearside far less confident.
Carl Winchester's take on his first goal for the club and today's draw.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 9, 2021
Watch in full... pic.twitter.com/4qq8WnlKdH
Sunderland have went from having the league in their own hands to finishing fourth, with the team also failing to keep a clean sheet in 10 matches.
In addition to this, Charlie Wyke has only scored three goals in his last 10 matches, as he appears to have dipped in form at the worst part of the season.
After such an amazing run of form which seen the club go 12 League One matches unbeaten, as well as lift the EFL Trophy at Wembley, Sunderland’s season has ended surprisingly poor.
Of course, the season is not over and Sunderland are now three matches away from the Championship, but I think every fan understands that Johnson’s team will have to lift their performance levels massively if we are to achieve that.
Last year’s playoff winners Wycombe only won five of their last 14 league matches before their playoff triumph, so hopefully the Sunderland squad can put this poor run behind them and emanate the performances which saved our season earlier this year.
Is the form of Bailey Wright Lee Johnson’s biggest concern heading into the playoffs?
When I had first heard that Bailey Wright was fit again I was thrilled, he was phenomenal at the beginning of the season and looked a class above League One.
However, Sunderland’s defensive injury crisis meant that the Australian International was rushed back into the starting XI, which has been nothing short of a disaster.
The ex-Bristol City captain has repeatedly looked off the pace, frequently being dribbled past whilst failing to show the aerial dominance he has previously displayed.
Against Northampton yesterday he was a clear weak link, his sloppy pass led to Luke O’Nien picking up a yellow card, then he gave away the foul that resulted to Sunderland going 1-0 down.
Lee Johnson reacts to today's draw and looks ahead to our play-off semi-final.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 9, 2021
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/GjS8nUFf3o
Wright was easily skipped past by Caleb Chukwuemeka, as Northampton’s two key chances from the match came through his mistakes.
He was incredibly poor against Hull and Accrington last month and despite playing seven consecutive matches, he stills looks a yard off the pace.
With Dion Sanderson, Arby Xhemajli and Jordan Willis all ruled out, Lee Johnson will be hoping Tom Flanagan will return to full fitness ready for the playoffs.
It has not been an ideal situation for Wright being rushed back in from injury, but I do not think it is wrong to question why he is still not up to speed.
You would expect Flanagan to replace but O’Nien, but if Wright continues his poor run of form he may find himself dropped instead.
Perhaps a week off will provide Wright the opportunity to get his body right, but he simply must improve if Sunderland are to stand a chance of achieving promotion.
Sunderland will face Lincoln over two legs, were they the best or worst of the potential opponents?
Yesterday’s results confirmed that Sunderland will face Lincoln in the playoffs, a team they are unbeaten in three matches against this season.
The two sides have drew 1-1 twice, with Sunderland thrashing Lincoln 4-0 at Sincil Bank back in December.
Michael Appleton’s side have enjoyed an excellent season and similarly to Sunderland, they have suffered from injuries to key players, meaning some weeks they did not fill their bench.
Whilst they will be a difficult opponent, I believe Lincoln would have been a favourable option for Lee Johnson given that Sunderland are unbeaten against them.
Blackpool have recently defeated The Black Cats twice, plus Oxford are League One’s most in form side, winning five of their last six fixtures to finish six.
Thankfully, Nigel Adkins’ Charlton narrowly missed out on the playoff position, so those on Wearside do not have to worry about another potential Wembley defeat at the hands of The Addicks.
Also, Portsmouth have proved a highly difficult opponent across Sunderland’s three seasons in the third tier, so I think the team will be pleased they also missed out.
Overall, I think Oxford will be the favourites heading into the playoffs given their form, so perhaps Sunderland have avoided the most difficult route.
Having said that, Lee Johnson’s team need to prioritise lifting their own form to stand a chance of promotion and Lincoln will be a very difficult opponent over two legs.