The Sunderland team appeared flat and deflated - why were they not up for a playoff semi-final?
Sunderland were on a horrendous run form coming into the game, but I think every fan expected the players to at least be motivated and up for the occasion.
Instead, bar an early spell in the second half, Sunderland were second best and rarely tested Lincoln’s emergency loan keeper.
The players appeared flat, deflated and lacking any belief that the team can actually achieve promotion. It is a polar opposite to the scenes we saw throughout the latter stages of our EFL Trophy campaign and our 12-match unbeaten run.
You would expect, considering over half the squad are out of contract, that they would be battling relentlessly to give their all for the cause, in an attempt to win a new deal here or elsewhere, but it just did not feel that way at all.
When the match concluded I did not necessarily feel that Lincoln were better in terms of quality, but in terms of desire and willingness to give their all, they were far superior than the Black Cats.
Watching Lincoln’s opening goal and you see the comparison between the two captains clearly. Liam Bridcutt sprints in and wins the ball to keep their move alive, while Max Power puts in a half-hearted attempt of a tackle.
Psychology is so important in sport and I think too many of Sunderland’s team have already accepted that promotion is not happening this year,
Should Lee Johnson bring in Chris Maguire for the second leg?
I was not surprised to see that Chris Maguire started as a substitute against Lincoln, but I was massively surprised to see that he did not come on at all.
When Sunderland need a reaction, a big moment, bar Aiden McGeady, Maguire is the one player you can call upon to make something happen.
His half volley against Crewe earlier this year, his eagerness to take a penalty against Plymouth, his excellent performance against Portsmouth during our previous playoff campaign – Maguire is someone who can be called upon under pressure.
I accept that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season, and Lee Johnson has made it clear that he does not want to start him, but Sunderland need characters right now and need players capable of a reaction.
Jack Diamond is an excellent prospect and Ross Stewart proved why the club recruited him against Plymouth, but on that bench on Wednesday there was only one player who stood out to change the match: Chris Maguire.
On Saturday Sunderland are going to need goals and quality deliveries into the box, they are going to need players with a point to prove who are capable of changing a match.
It may well end up being his last game in a red and white shirt, but I think in such a desperate situation Sunderland need a player like Maguire to give fans just a small piece of hope that the tie is not dead.
The players have a mountain to climb – are they capable of doing it?
Sunderland have only won four League One matches this season with a three-goal margin, one being against Lincoln. Are they capable of doing it on Saturday?
Lee Johnson’s team have a monumental task at the Stadium of Light. They are coming up against a fully-fit, organised team, that possess pace on the flanks and quality in central midfield.
Michael Appleton’s side fully deserved their playoff spot and will be incredibly difficult to score three against, especially when they have a cushion to begin with.
How Sunderland start on Saturday is absolutely crucial. The key advantage Johnson’s side has is the 10,000 fans who have been desperate to watch their team over the past year.
Imagine the atmosphere if Sunderland were to score early. The place would be bouncing and the players would surely benefit from the roar of support.
That has to be a key part of the manager’s team talk, use the supporters to your advantage and put Lincoln under intense pressure right from the off.
I acknowledge it will be an incredibly difficult task to overturn a two-goal lead, but if Sunderland are going to miss out on promotion, they at least need to go out fighting and show the supporters they have gave everything they possibly can.