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Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One

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So, it’s come to this...

The promotion charge has fizzled out of late, but do Sunderland have what it takes to conquer the playoffs?

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The midweek results weren’t kind to Sunderland, with teams above and below picking up points and removing even more space between the sides in the playoffs.

We find ourselves now with eight matches left of the regular season, but with other sides still with games in hand, our current position within the playoffs could change rapidly.

It’s hard to believe that our chances of promotion now rest on avoiding slip-ups in order to book a place in the playoffs, but it was our dire run just after new year which has led us to this point.

At the end of December, a thumping 5-0 win against promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday sent us to the top of the table.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Things felt great, but the feeling is distant now that we fell apart in January and February. We are where we are now because of some truly awful displays, but it feels as though despite the performances not being too enjoyable, the results have turned a corner.

Since the end of February, Alex Neil has tightened us up and got us back to winning matches.

In the five matches since the 2-1 loss to MK Dons, we’ve won three, drawn two and conceded just twice.

The win at Wigan was a pleasant shock, and despite playing poorly for large chunks of both the Fleetwood and Crewe matches, we got the job done relatively comfortably.

Keeping fingers crossed for teams like Plymouth, Oxford and Wycombe dropping points is a sad indictment of where we are as a third-tier club.

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

What is sadder is that, at the moment, although we are on a decent run ourselves so are most of the other teams in the playoff push.

We’ve shot ourselves in the foot letting our season crumble in the spectacular fashion it did, but these last eight fixtures are going to be vital.

You could argue that we could only afford to drop points on maybe one or even two of the remaining matchdays, but with the intensity of which the teams around us pick up points.

The run-in is going to have its ups and downs. We can get frustrated at how this season goes, but not just yet.

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

There’s still a very real chance of promotion, but to qualify for the playoffs it is going to take an almighty effort from every player who pulls on red and white from now until 30 April. The post mortem of the season will be determined on what we can do in the next two months.

The football hasn’t been pleasant, but we’re back to looking like we are tough to beat. Sometimes, especially in this division, that feels more important.

The early signs under Alex Neil have been positive, and if we do go on a long unbeaten run from now until the end of the season we will have chosen one hell of a time to do so.

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