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Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One

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“Now is not the time for a post-mortem!”

“Yes, Sunderland ended the regular season in poor form. But what good can thinking negatively do for us in the run up to the play-offs?” asks Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Sunderland’s fall from grace in the final quarter of the season has been nothing short of dramatic. Going from 14 games unbeaten to finishing the campaign with one win in nine has been a spectacular example of Sunderland doing a Sunderland.

It is easy - and natural - to become concerned with a run of form that wouldn’t look out of place for a team in a relegation scrap. However, there is a time to dissect this woeful run, and a week before a play-off semi-final is not that time.

Automatic promotion hopes faded some weeks ago, and looking at the relentless form of Hull and Peterborough, you can’t deny that they deserve it.

Of course, it’d be nice if we’d stormed to automatic promotion, but we were on the fringes – at best – of that race all season.

In reality, we were always a play-off team at best, and all of our energy needs to be focused on the three games that could get us out of this league once and for all.

Yes, social media is something of a vacuum, but in the wake of full time on Sunday it made for tough reading. While fans of the other three sides in the play-offs looked ahead to the challenge, many involved with Sunderland seemed to be writing us off already.

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Picking ourselves up from the poor end to the season is vital if we want to get out of this league. I would be a very naive person if I said we didn’t limp over the finish line, but what use is negativity in the lead-up to such a massive game?

It’s a two-legged contest that we have as much right to win as our opponents - and don’t forget that we’ve taken four points from them already during the regular season.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what caused Sunderland’s collapse in form at such a vital stage of the season. We were ticking along nicely, not blowing teams away but picking up the points to move into a position where the top two looked possible. However, at the end of the day, we have finished fourth.

As the fourth-best team in the league we at least have the advantage of playing at home last in the play-offs, and it’s something that we should all get behind and hope the players can take advantage of. The added incentive of having potentially 10,000 fans in the SoL should be more than enough to get everyone up for the fight.

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

We never had a divine right to go straight up from League One. Our form over these three seasons has never justified walking away with the division, but the opportunity of promotion is still there.

Despite the attitude of some folk, the fact is that we have just as much chance of promotion as Blackpool, Lincoln or Oxford.

A 1-1 draw at home to an already relegated side is of course not good enough for a club looking to build momentum ahead of the play-offs, but that match is behind us.

We have just over a week to rest up and gear ourselves up for one final push.

If we do miss out on promotion, then a postmortem on a failed season will be required.

But there’s a lot of football to be played between now and then.


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