“Taking one game at a time” has to be the most overused cliché on Wearside these days, but given the close proximity of these two games and the fact teams around us have some interesting games, I think we can be forgiven for sticking this double-header together in our minds.
Shrewsbury look like the biggest potential banana skin out of all the remaining games for me - we have a habit of letting old players and managers to come back to haunt us (shoutout Tom Flanagan and Steve Cotterill), and it was only a few weeks ago when they absolutely battered Rotherham at the New York Stadium (though, in fairness, everyone is beating Rotherham these days).
That said, in comparison to who the other play-off contenders have to play, you have to say that we have the easiest game on Friday. I’d be worried if we don’t win, despite the fact I expect the Shrews to come up here and play just like Crewe, Fleetwood and Gillingham did recently. This is one game where nothing less than three points would be acceptable.
Plymouth on Monday is a different proposition altogether. It’s our longest trip of the season and they’re absolutely excellent at home - they’ve had a couple of disappointing results in the last week or two and possibly only need one or two more wins to confirm their play-off spot, so I’m expecting it to be tough. I’d take a point now, in all honesty.
I’m not expecting the teams around us to win both of their games this weekend, so four points would probably be enough to ensure we keep ticking over going into the final few weeks of the season - it’s important we keep this momentum building, and that we keep our defence tight. Four points would be lush, but of course, six would be even better.
Andrew Smithson says...
We are at the stage of the season where there are so many factors at play that making predictions is even harder than usual, but I think we can go into these fixtures feeling fairly confident.
Our form is good, and rather than fearing the opposition I reckon they’ll be the ones worried. Shrewsbury Town have had some decent results against top half sides but we are a different proposition at the moment, and the pressure will be on Plymouth Argyle as the home side come Monday so it isn’t unrealistic to think we can go there and get something.
Unlike some clubs we have a bit of stength in depth on the bench in certain areas - not only does it mean players know that they have to produce to keep their place, it also gives Alex Neil the ability to freshen things up over the course of the long weekend if required.
On that point, the ideal scenario on Friday would be us getting a couple of goals ahead in decent time. With Shrewsbury having little to play for I can see them folding should we take an early lead, and if we can have the game won a little sooner than in recent matches it would be good to bring a couple of players off and rest them.
That would set us up nicely for the trip to Devon and mean we can go there knowing a win would be a bonus rather than a necessity. We are tight at the back and able to keep creating right up until the final whistle right now, and having that extra freedom would only make us an even harder prospect to face.
It is far from job done yet, and certainly not the time to be counting any chickens, but things are back in our hands at least and even that seemed a long shot at one point.
We could yet end up with egg on our face, that is just the Sunderland way I’m afraid, but we are on a roll at the moment and another couple of decent results would help make it a cracking weekend.
Kev Campbell says...
At this stage of the season, and in our current position, every game left is a “must win”, if you like. The playoffs are as much about form and momentum as anything else, and flying in 13 unbeaten with 7 wins on the bounce would be some kind of momentum.
As has been mentioned several times over the last couple of weeks, the way we win is almost irrelevant. Grinding out wins or flying high with 8 goals still gets the three points which is all that matters at this stage.
I will say that the game against Plymouth probably holds a bit more importance and significance. Teams around us will no doubt be watching to see the result of that fixture, and a win, especially if it’s convincing or another with late goal dramatics, would send a message to everyone else in the promotion scrap.
All said, I think being sat 5th, just shy of Plymouth, with a game in hand on them, would be a cracking place to be after our Easter festivities.