Like everyone who has watched Sunderland over the last couple of months, I feel like I’ve aged about 20 years.
To see a team go from the pinnacle of their powers to a disheartened, shaky mess was pretty spectacular over the course of just seven games, but thankfully for supporters, things are now back on track.
A trip to Plymouth Argyle was perhaps wasn’t the most challenging of fixtures for Sunderland over the weekend – after all, the Pilgrim have conceded 79 goals so far this season. But, perhaps facing a team such as them was just what the doctor ordered for Lee Johnson’s side.
Victory at Home Park was enough to (finally!) secure a spot in the League One play-offs, and that means that this weekend’s clash with Northampton Town can pretty much be dubbed as a free swing in terms of the club’s aspirations.
However, Sunderland are in no position to be taking a weekend off.
The play-off spots are particularly tight this term with the Black Cats able to finish in 3rd, 4th and 5th position with just one match remaining.
A three way fight for that final Play-Off place on the final day!#EFL | #SkyBetLeagueOne pic.twitter.com/cOkjBJmq3w— Sky Bet League One (@SkyBetLeagueOne) May 5, 2021
I’m sure fans will have their thoughts on who is the best team to take on in the play-offs, but let’s be honest, for Sunderland there’s no such thing as an easy opponent.
One thing that the club can control, however, is the club’s confidence going into the play-offs. Before Saturday’s win over Plymouth it was clear to see that confidence was rock-bottom in the Sunderland squad – something that was far from ideal at this stage in the season. While three points certainly helped, there’s still work to do if Johnson’s side are going to be at their best for the play-offs.
It’s been a long, hard season and there will surely be a temptation to rest players in order to have the team’s key men in the best physical condition possible, but let’s not underestimate their mental position.
Northampton are hardly a team that should be causing problems for Sunderland this weekend and that means that there’s a real opportunity to send a message to their play-off rivals that they mean business.
Instead of resting their key players, Johnson must play his strongest side against the Cobblers.
Sunderland could really benefit from a clean sheet after a few difficult weeks, while it’s clear that the likes of Aiden McGeady, Jordan Jones et al would benefit from an afternoon playing on the front foot with little in the way of pressure.
A comfortable victory would do Lee Johnson’s side the world of good in preparation for the play-offs, and so it’s vital that the gaffer doesn’t try anything too clever in a match which could set the team up perfectly for the two (or three!) games that will make or break the season.