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Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One

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No tinkering, please! The Play-Offs start now for Sunderland

Now is not the time to lose focus - Sunderland should treat Sunday’s game just as importantly as they will when the Play-Offs roll around. One final heave!

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

There have been various debates from our fans over team selection, tactics and strategy. I mean... there always is with our supporters, and every fanbase up and down the country.

Do we go 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 do we sit tight and be hard to break down? Or do we go all out attack? Which players should start? Who should we bring off the bench? And so on.

Ahead of tomorrow’s game with already-relegated Northampton, we are in quite a unique position. We have already qualified for the play-offs, and so the match isn’t definitive. Of course, every match matters and we ideally want to finish third or fourth, but we already know our fate lies in two - hopefully three - play-off matches.

Therefore some sections of our fans have suggested it’s a perfect opportunity to test a few of the younger lads out and see if they are up to the challenge, tinker with new tactics, and use the game as an experiment. I for one think it would be a bad idea.

We’ve all seen in the last few months how form and momentum are a major factor in a team's results. In February and March it went our way. We were finding ways to win matches without playing that, we won eight out of 12 matches and looked unstoppable. Every Sunderland fan was dreaming of a late surge towards automatic promotion, and Hull City and Peterborough United were in our sights.

Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Just as quickly as that arrived, it went again - going seven without a win, and looking like confidence and belief had completely gone.

Some were even suggesting we would have a difficult job in making the top six. I have touched on it previously, but I really feel our best chance in the play-offs is with form and confidence sky-high.

I feel that weakening the team and trialing new, younger players would threaten the flow of our game and may damage our form. If we lose the game, we’ve undone all our hard work.

I feel we also must pay due respect to Northampton Town. Yes, they are relegated and will at least in theory have nothing to play for, but they will still be up for the game.

They may indeed see this as a ‘free hit’ an opportunity to go out on a high and throw caution to the wind with a win.

Let's not forget we failed to beat them in the earlier fixture - a 0-0 draw at Sixfields.

I feel our best chance to win the game would be with a strong-line up - a team as close to full strength as possible. We have also played the likes of Wigan Athletic and Accrington Stanley teams deemed to be weaker than us in recent weeks and been expected to turn them over... and look what happened there.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

There may be some of you reading that think ‘yeah,,, but what if the players are tired or get injured?’ Well, firstly on fitness - there is a nine or ten day gap after Sunday’s match, so that’s plenty of time for the players to rest. Don’t forget there has been no mid-week fixture this week, so the players should be raring to go.

I appreciate injuries are a concern, but if we get far in front in the game, there may be an opportunity to take some off.

We can also make sure they are sharp and firing, ready for the crucial play-off matches.

As a rule - I’m all in favour of giving proper opportunities to our younger players.

Jack Diamond has featured regularly this season, with mixed success. Ollie Younger certainly has potential as a future centre-back starter, and there are others in the frame such as Dan Neil, Brandon Taylor and Anthony Patterson.

I think next season they should be introduced at the right times and blended into the first team - but I think it would be unfair to throw them into the fold at this stage.

We have to get the mentality right at the weekend. While it’s not officially a play-off game, we have to get in the right frame of mind to be ruthless and confident.

Now is not the time to lose focus. One final heave!


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