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Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet League One

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How do you see the season panning out from here?

Are you resigned to another season for Sunderland in this division, or is there still a small amount of hope lingering that we can somehow have a strong finish, win the playoffs and get promoted?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil West says...

At this stage, I would be quite happy to bid the 2021/2023 season farewell, and attempt to tune out of all things Sunderland AFC until August.

The past month and a half has been an absolute disaster on just about every level, with enthusiasm and optimism being replaced by apathy, worry, and general pessimism, and even though I always try and find things to be optimistic about, even I’m struggling to see any real slivers of hope at the moment.

Unfortunately, there are still 12 games left to play, and in theory, we are still in the race for promotion via the playoffs, so there’s little alternative but to try and stay with the team as they try to get things back on track and salvage something from the remaining fixtures. At the moment, it’s difficult to see a way out of this rut, but the games keep coming, and we’ve got no choice but to face the challenge.

Nevertheless, I do expect us to scrape into the top six after 46 games, and for us to give our absolute best as we try to overturn history and finally escape a division via the back door route. It won’t be pretty, and I think we will end up grinding our way through the remaining fixtures, because confidence is at a staggering low, we seem no closer to rediscovering the spark that we had earlier in the season, and I’m not convinced that Alex Neil knows his best XI, either.

If we are to secure a playoff place, I feel that three players will be absolutely crucial: Ross Stewart, whose goals have been crucial for us this season; Alex Pritchard, who hasn’t been dragged into the mediocre place that many of his teammates find themselves, and Jay Matete, whose energy & drive in midfield are going to be vital.

With our defence held together with sticky tape at the moment and individual players dreadfully out of form, I think we are going to be heavily reliant on our attacking options as we scrap for a top six berth. Neil needs to unlock the attacking potential that we possess, but time is not on his side.

It will be nervy and very fraught, and frankly, I don’t fancy our chances in the playoffs if we do get there, but it’s a chance, and one that we’ve got to be 100% focused on.

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

Mark Carrick says...

Where does our season go from here? I have to say, I can’t see us making the play-offs now.

We have folded in spectacular style. We can’t defend even the simplest of balls and we get caught so easily on the counter. The players seem totally clueless, devoid of any confidence and form. They are reverting to type of playing long balls and generally panicking whenever the ball comes anywhere near our goal. It would take a huge shift to recapture the form that took us to the top of the table in December.

The sacking of Johnson, whilst justified in some quarters, now looks like a huge mistake. He was, at least, getting the players to work together. Dodds, and now Neil, appear to have little influence or impact on raising the spirits and form of this squad. In fact, persisting with Evans, Gooch, Cirkin, Doyle, and Neil whilst keeping Roberts, Clarke and Hume out of the starting XI, is a mystery.

I was quite excited about Alex Neil, given the reports from his former clubs, but the opening weeks have shown nothing, other than to suggest we would have been better off sticking with Johnson. If Neil can’t work out a winning formation and tactics soon, our season will slip from top two to midtable obscurity within a matter of weeks.

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

Kelvin Beattie says...

I believe there is still time to mount a serious assault on the playoffs.

It is of course still very much mathematically possible, but without some semblance of form, confidence and guile on the pitch we are destined for another season in League One.

I was shocked on Tuesday with our style of play, team selection and formation. We appeared to have changed very little in terms of formation and style from the MK Dons game.

Hopefully, Alex Neil and his backroom team are clearer on their options and the way forward.

Leadership on the pitch has stood out as being somewhat absent, particularly in these last two home games. Whilst none of us fans can really know how things are off the pitch and in the dressing room, we can see what is happening on the pitch and it does not look like Cory Evans is demonstrably playing a Captain's role or then justifying his place in the team through his play. This issue needs to be addressed with urgency!

Humping the ball somewhere in the vicinity of Ross Stewart is not a strategy that is going to win us too many games or appease an increasingly restless fan base.

Our susceptibility to the fast break has been brutally exposed in the last two games, and this surely must be occupying our Head Coach’s wakened hours.

Despite these huge issues, were there just some signs of green shoot recovery against Burton? With my tin hat well and truly in situ, I would say yes. We never stopped trying, but this effort lacked guile, pace and efficiency.

The return of Gooch was a plus for me. He offers versatility and effort, he occasionally gets his crosses in the right areas and he has a chant that is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s - what is not to like? I will not be joining the “down on Gooch brigade”.

Winchester looked to have rediscovered some of his mojo against Burton - it’s time to get him back in the midfield. Neil too looked lively in his cameo - good for him, he is going to be a good player, of this I am sure and he could yet play a vital part in our season.

Jack Clarke can beat a man at pace and seems unencumbered by the atmosphere and tension of the moment, his talent and confidence must be utilised more in the run-in.

Pritchard and Stewart continue to show us (albeit in flashes) that they can play and have the skills to offer. We have to stop lumping so many near-miss balls at Stewart and stop playing Pritchard left wing. He is far more effective at 10, off-loading at pace in dangerous areas, than being isolated out on the left wing! Matete has shown some potential and like a lot of my fellow fans, I am looking forward to seeing him and Neil forge a partnership (though this might not be in the run-in).

Bailly Wright has played okay in the last two games, despite the frailties round about him. We should also credit Patterson with at least 4 good stops against Burton.

There is something to rekindle into a play-off force.

Alex Neil really does need to consider his formation and team selection. I would urge him again to look at a back five and to utilise both Trai Hume and Patrick Roberts in the run-in. If he is fit, I believe Dyce might be worth a try on the left of a back five, his pace and strength could be a welcome bonus to allow Cirkin to be given a break from the headlights he has found himself trapped in these last few games.

Batth needs to be utilised in this back five too.

Defoe still looks short of match ready to me - I am not saying he cannot be utilised, but I would do this in small but ever-increasing stages.

With O’Nien, McGeady, Broadhead and Hoffmann to come back, can we keep ourselves in it long enough for them to impact meaningfully?

There is still hope, but there’s some serious thinking and work to be done!

We need to hold our nerve and bottle for the fight too - whilst some were struggling to do this against Burton, I felt a good number were giving the team their best.

Let’ keep this going.

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

Michael Dunne says...

For me, the season is definitely only going in one direction - and that’s a downward trajectory.

In one shambolic month, the club have completely self-destructed on and off the pitch, and I cannot see it being recovered.

Sunderland’s players look completely shook and devoid of any confidence. They look scared and worried on the pitch and like a team of players that don’t want to be there.

With a new management coming in, it will inevitably lead to changes on the pitch and how we play. This unfortunately means that it will take time for players to adapt. Which in turn means we are likely to continue to lose games.

We don’t have the time at present and I think we are paying for mismanagement now.

From this point I would be satisfied in getting into the playoffs and seeing where it takes us.

That, unfortunately, is even hard to see happening.

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