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Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One

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Reader’s Corner: ‘It’s a massive game… so why don’t I feel up for it?’

Our end-of-season form has left RR reader Dean Pope feeling rather indifferent about the prospect of the play-offs.

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Having just watched our under 23s go to Stoke City and win 2-0 to reach the PL2 play-off final and being one step away from promotion – a remarkable feat considering where they were 12 months ago – I find myself feeling very indifferent with our upcoming semi-final versus Lincoln City.

I don’t have that feeling of butterflies in my stomach, nor am I confident of a comfortable victory.

The next three games are arguably the biggest in our recent history. Get promoted and the era of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus gets off to the perfect start: an EFL cup win and getting out of this godforsaken league.

Lose and we have to rebuild an entire squad to go again in a league so devoid of any real quality it’s laughable.

So with all that in mind, why do I feel so… meh?

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final
Promotion plus the EFL Cup would get the KLD era off to the best of starts
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

I go back to the 5th April. We had just snatched a late point away to Peterborough, automatic promotion was still in our hands and I’d just spent 90 mins with my heart trying to escape my chest due to nerves.

I had high hopes as Lee Johnson had guided us on a great run and we looked unbeatable. It was only a matter of ‘when’ we were going in the top two and not ‘if’.

We then had a setback, we lose to Charlton at home, ‘it’s a blip’ we said, hoping it would galvanise us to promotion like the defeat to Reading under Mick McCarthy did way back in 2005.

We then go to Wigan, a struggling team fighting for survival and who’d already beaten the lads in Lee Johnson's first game in charge. Having taken the lead we then get played off the park in the second half and lose back to back games.

Next up, an away game to a promotion rival, Blackpool. It was a pretty turgid affair and we had lost three games on the bounce for the first time in the third tier of English football. Automatic promotion was not only out of our hands but pretty much dead in the sand.

We know how the rest of the season went from there; only confirming our play-off places by beating 10-man Plymouth Argyle in our penultimate game of the season and finishing the season with a snore-fest of a game against Northampton Town, leaving us with a run of seven points out of a possible 27. Hardly inspiring form to head into the play-offs with.

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One
Snorefest: Northampton
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It hasn’t just been the results that have left me felt deflated, but also the performances. Now I know we have no divine right to win games, let alone dominate them, but the performances from that Peterborough game onwards have been nothing short of disgraceful. Limping from game to game without a settled starting 11, the faith I had in Johnson has started to wane.

My only hope is that with a 10-day gap between games, we have managed to get injured players back on the field and had a chance to work hard on the training pitch to improve our game.

I’ve no doubt that when the game begins the butterflies will return and I’ll go through every emotion imaginable during those 90 minutes. Until then, I’ll enjoy watching other fans suffer in the play-offs!

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