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Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Two

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Under Starter’s Orders!

While all eyes will be on the Gold Cup at Cheltenham this week, for Sunderland fans the only race that matters is the race for promotion.

The final furlong _ The Lads need to find their form as we reach the run in.
| Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

The week’s results have put Sunderland’s task in a clearer perspective.

The race for EFL Division One promotion is to all intents and purposes down to a single spot. If this were a race that was part of the Cheltenham festival the bookies would be offering punters odds with Rotherham (currently 1/25 with Bet 365) and potentially Wigan 1/10 out of the betting as the two now look highly likely to grab the top two automatic spots.

If the bookies are any guide to where the clubs will finish, we have to hope that Sunderland’s streaky patches, which have defined the campaign so far, end with a straight run of wins. It is all about promotion via the play-offs now, as with games in hand and a 10 point cushion the chance of leap-frogging Wigan in second looks remote.

So where do we stand in respect of the others in this play-off promotion race which will end on 21 May at Wembley?

If we go with the bookies then MK Dons (7/4) will be lifting the play-off trophy at Wembley. They will have beaten Sheffield Wednesday (11/4) in the final who will have beaten Sunderland (7/2) in the semi-finals and MK Dons will have triumphed over Oxford United (4/1). It leaves Plymouth (7/1), Wycombe (10/1), Ipswich (25/1) and Portsmouth (50/1) set to fail to make the final three games of the season.

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

Now while I have never met a poor bookmaker, we all know the favourite doesn’t always win, particularly as there are so many hurdles yet to jump in this particular race.

The odds are also rather surprising when you take a look at the state of the table. As we are all too well aware three points splits the teams from fourth to eighth. MK Dons might aspire to the second spot being just three points behind Wigan but the Latics have two games in hand.

Ipswich are six points behind The Lads with Portsmouth eight adrift of sixth and unless there is a stunning collapse by four of the teams above, they are both destined to face another season in this division.

If we look at those who have been entered in this race, MK Dons could be viewed as the youngest in the field, having shown flashes of form but with little track record when the going gets heavy. Oxford United have tasted life in better company, but have struggled in recent years to last the pace.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Plymouth Argyle on the other hand are the surprise in the field having shown no real form in the past which would have led to the belief they were capable of competing in this company, but there are major questions as to whether they have the stamina to last.

Sheffield Wednesday have a history of success at a far higher grade, but have failed to show any real signs of recapturing the form enjoyed in the dim and distant past. However, they are a big beast and as such cannot be discounted.

That leaves Sunderland. Having shown flashes of brilliance this term they have matched those with performances of such ineptitude they have felt the need to switch coaches in an effort to deliver consistency. Signs are promising and as by far the largest of the respective contenders still in the race they are just as likely to sweep all before them as they are to fail to leave the stalls.

It is what makes supporting this team so exciting at times and heart-breaking at so many others. Maybe this is the year where Sunderland are the side that builds the head of steam that sees them go into the play-offs with their tails up and prove to be the thoroughbred in this contest – we can only hope we are about to see a performance fit for Desert Orchid rather than a donkey derby!


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