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Morecambe v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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It’s time for Alex Neil’s Sunderland to put our play-off hoodoo to bed!

The play-offs have been an unhappy hunting ground for Sunderland in recent years - here’s why, this time, under the leadership of Alex Neil things need to be different...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sealing a place in the lottery which is the League One playoffs was the absolute bare minimum heading into the final match of the regular season.

A win at Morecambe would, regardless of results elsewhere, make sure we’d get a ticket for the end-of-season showdown.

The 1-0 win in Lancashire got the job done, and Plymouth’s 5-0 collapse at home to MK Dons meant that even a defeat wouldn’t have seen us drop out of the top six.

Full time on Saturday had eyes turning towards Friday and a crunch first leg playoff game under the lights at the SoL.

It’s no secret that SAFC and the playoffs are far from a match made in heaven. Older fans will take the 1998 final against Charlton Athletic as an example of playoff failure, whereas younger fans can cite the 2019 defeat to the Addicks or the 2021 semi final loss to Lincoln as more recent reasons to despise the playoffs.

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

The wait for the start of the playoffs feels agonising, but us Sunderland fans know that this period feels a hell of a lot better than enduring the actual playoffs.

The days in the lead up to Friday will be fraught with concern and stress, with hopes that we will not do ‘A Sunderland’ and at least take some sort of lead down to South Yorkshire.

It seems that the importance of the first leg on Wearside has not been lost, and like we so often do for huge games, we will be descending on the Stadium of Light in huge numbers.

I write this on Monday evening, the Premier Concourse has been opened and thousands of tickets have been sold.

Only on very few occasions has the concourse been open in recent years, and its opening always signals the arrival of a huge fixture. Whatever the final number of tickets sold is, it is sure to be a special atmosphere, and one which the players will surely welcome heading into the playoffs.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

It’s been a very long time since we’ve had a bumper crowd for a Friday night under the lights, and it’s vital we back the lads from the get-go; something that Sunderland fans don’t need a second invitation for.

The playoffs can be a beautiful, dramatic and energetic way to get out of a league on one hand but, on the other hand, they can be a horrific, gut-wrenching, kick-in-the-teeth way of remaining in a league.

Some teams enjoy only good times under the Wembley arch, others enjoy a mix of emotions.

When it comes to Sunderland and the play-offs we have endured far more sorrow than joy over the years, but this isn’t the same Sunderland side that imploded in 2019 or failed to turn up at Lincoln in 2021.

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

This is an Alex Neil side that heads into the playoffs with a thirteen-match unbeaten run under our belts.

Wembley is a very long way away, and we have 180 minutes to get ourselves there.

We need to be a true 12th man on Friday night, get the place packed and get behind the lads for what will be a huge test against a very good side.

46 games, lots of ups, lots of downs and a whole lot of frustration has boiled down to a two-match shootout.

It’s time to stand tall lads and lasses, starting with being at the SoL on Friday night.

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