Well, well, well... here we are again. Four games from the end of the season, just two points outside of the Championship playoff zone, with everything still to play for. It all feels very familiar, doesn’t it?
There are four games left before the season ends, and in all honesty, if we didn’t win a single one of them I’d still be absolutely over the moon with how this season has panned out.
It’s hard sometimes to keep perspective when you’re living in the moment, but let’s just take a step back for a second and think of the adversity we’ve faced this season.
We lost our manager early doors, we lost both of our strikers at the same time, we lost our captain for the rest of the season, we’ve been without players like Cirkin, Alese, Ballard, Huggins and Gooch for large chunks of the campaign - meaning we’ve rarely had a settled defence out and, for the most part, we’ve played with midfielders in there to plug the gaps... we lost Embleton for most of the season, Simms was recalled by Everton and not adequately replaced, we then lost Ross Stewart again, this time for the remainder of the season, meaning we’ve played without a recognised striker for about three quarters of the campaign... and that’s just the stuff off the top of my head. There was probably more.
Take all of that into account and then consider that last season we finished fifth in the league below - to even still be in the conversation when it comes to promotion is baffling.
What an absolutely superb job everyone at the club has done, from the owner to the Sporting Director, to the Head of Recruitment, the Head Coach, every single player, the bloke who drives the team bus and even Joyce who runs the staff canteen.
This has been a season beyond belief.
We’ve played some amazing football at times - I’d go as far as to say that it’s the best football that I’ve ever seen from a Sunderland side in terms of technical quality - and we’re easily the most attractive side in the division going forward.
Expectations have been kept low, which has allowed Mowbray to work without any real pressure and create an environment for these young players that allows them to thrive.
And here we are, ninth in the table and very much one of the form teams in the division.
It’s a well-worn cliché, but we have to take things one game at a time.
For the last few weeks it has felt like we’re just one defeat away from the season being over, but we keep finding ways to pick up points - a trait that saw us through to the end last season in League One, too.
This next week is absolutely huge. Seven days from now we’ll either be talking about how the race for the playoffs is still within reach over the final two weeks of the season, or we’ll be talking about how it’s over and how we’ve had so much fun watching this team blossom before our very eyes each and every week in the Championship.
Four cup finals (another well-worn cliché, but it’s true). Four more opportunities to write our names into the history books. Four more opportunities to get ourselves into the top six and to give us the chance to become the first Sunderland side in history to achieve back-to-back promotions.
I fancy us against any team in this division, certainly over two legs. We have nothing to fear in the final four games, although each of them are a tough test in their own right, with one being against a side desperate to avoid relegation and the other three coming against sides who like ourselves have hopes of being at Wembley in that final in May.
I’m expecting nothing, and there’s certainly no pressure being exerted by me or any other fan, but would you be surprised if we somehow sneak into the playoff spots?
We have belief, and we have a tremendous togetherness in the squad. I’m certain they all think they can get there, and starting with Huddersfield tomorrow, they have to carry on playing like a team who have something left to prove.
I believe in them, because this team is special.
But, if we don’t achieve a top six finish, at least we know we gave it a good go, against all odds, with a group of players who have earned our respect and love over the course of the last eighteen months.
Bring it on!
April 16, 2023