Saturday’s win brought Sunderland’s recent form to a very respectable 14 points from six games. After the wretched run of form which preceded it, there is no doubt that it is a more than welcome turnaround as we face the last stage of yet another season with its fair share of turmoil.
Four wins and two draws in our last six matches has actually little in terms of improving the Lads’ league position. Why? Because the teams around us are in similar form, which means that unless Sunderland find an extra gear from somewhere then we are likely to finish just in, or even just outside of the playoffs.
Looking over our shoulder, Oxford have won games but also lost two of their last five. Wycombe in 8th place and one point behind are in the same kind of form as ourselves, and in fact, out of the whole top eight teams in League One the only side that looks to be in some kind of wobble are top of the table Rotherham.
Some fans will be optimistic and see our chances of winning the play-offs very real. My own view is based on watching Sunderland in six attempts at winning them since 1987 and simply goes that ‘we never bloody do!’. Even the one time that we have been promoted by the playoffs we didn’t actually win them.
My hope of hopes is that I am completely wrong and, come the end of May, we are watching Sunderland make a victory parade around Wembley Stadium, celebrating a return to the Championship after four years in League One.
But if we are not, it will be because we are facing another year at this level and, facing the problem that has dogged every attempt at promotion since we started in 2018.
Form for any side goes on and off throughout a season. To get automatic promotion, when your form is good it needs to be very good. To push into the top two places a side needs to be able to put together sequences of say five consecutive wins.
Win-draw-win-draw- win kind of runs give a very respectable return of points and if it was maintained over a season it would see that team promoted at the end of it. Except no team actually does that - they have dips in form along the line - even the top two teams. It is the sequences where they have ‘made hay while the sun shines’ keep them up there.
When was the last time Sunderland won five consecutive league matches? Back on 3 November 2018 in Jack Ross’s first season in charge, when we ended the day in second place in League One.
Ever since then, we have never replicated that form in three further seasons in League One and, we have never - as many fans think we should - looked like we are running away with the league.
If we find ourselves once more kicking off at this level in August, then Sunderland need to be able to put that kind of form together to gain one of the automatic promotion spots. Even this season, going into the play-offs it is the form team that everyone else fears, the one that is confident and winning every week that are the favourites.
There is no doubt that Alex Neil has tightened up a leaky Sunderland team considerably, conceding just one goal in our unbeaten run. If he can get us hitting the net more often then we could well be the formidable opponents that has every other team in the playoffs feeling we are the team to be wary of.