After our 1-5 defeat to Stoke City at the beginning of March, many would’ve been forgiven for believing that Sunderland’s playoff hopes were all but over.
We’d been humiliatingly exposed on home turf by our former boss and with one of the toughest run-ins of the season to come, we were largely ruled out of the race by many.
However, just over five weeks later and with only five games remaining, a top six finish feels like a distinct possibility for this group of players.
To be in this position nearly a year on from that day under the Wembley arch is an absolute credit to the players, management and those behind the scenes, and to find ourselves within touching distance of a top six finish in the Championship as a newly-promoted club seems an unreal reality.
However, that’s exactly where we are with only 450 minutes of Championship action remaining.
For the supporters, the hope has ebbed and flowed throughout the season but as the games have unfolded, still being in with a shout has everyone on edge and feeling optimistic of what might happen between now and May 8th, and potentially May 27th, the date of the playoff final.
After Friday’s dramatic 4-4 draw with Hull, optimism was reignited on Easter Monday with a controlled victory over Cardiff in South Wales, a game during which the home side didn’t really get going, showing exactly why they remain firmly in the relegation picture.
All we can do is beat whoever is front of us and although we struggled in parts without a recognised striker, we found a way to score as Alex Pritchard’s free kick rebounded off the post into the path of Dennis Cirkin, who fired it into the roof of the net.
In the end, it was enough to claim all three points and propel us back into the playoff picture. Although we remain outside of the top six, I wonder whether we’ve got more of a chance of sneaking our way in, given the fixtures that lie ahead.
Realistically, it’s all going to come down to our home form.
If we were to claim six points from our next two home matches, the impact of those results could be all the more significant.
Three out of our last five will be played at the Stadium of Light and if we were to achieve wins over West Brom and Preston, we’d be severely denting the hopes of two of our rivals.
There’s no doubt that Mowbray needs to get it right at home.
Do that, and we’re arguably more likely to find ourselves in the top six come the end of the season, but it’s going to be a big ask.
Our home form has been patchy all season and rather surprisingly, we’ve found it easier to play our attacking and eye catching brand of football away from the Stadium of Light, without the pressures of 40,000 fans watching as well as teams attempting to slow games down.
During Mowbray’s post-match assessment on Monday, it seemed as though he’s up for the fight and after weeks and months of downplaying the prospect of a top six finish, it’s something he’s aspiring to for the fans.
If we win the next couple, it’ll be very interesting to see where it would leave us in the table. It would be exciting to get to the last two or three still with a chance of creeping in, but let’s see how we go.
So, for Sunderland, it’s all come down to this.
Four points and three teams separate ourselves and the top six with only five games of the season left.
Leave everything out on the pitch during the final weeks, and the fans will be more than happy about how this season has unfolded, whether we finish in the top six or not.
This was meant to be a season of consolidation, but it’s now turned into a late battle for something slightly more intriguing.