Hull City v Sunderland AFC Match Preview: Still In It Or All Over?

Sunderland's automatic promotion hopes are on life support. Michael Lough previews the prospect of spoiling Hull City's own promotion party.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it?

Just 14 days ago, we all thought this fixture would be a season-defining one. Had we won our last three games, we would be going into the trip to Hull knowing a win would put us top of the league with a game in hand on tonight’s opponents.

Instead, the hosts could clinch promotion if they condemn Sunderland to a fourth defeat in a row. Even a win would leave us eight points behind the league leaders with only four games left to play. If that isn’t depressing enough, Hull have won their last four fixtures and came from behind at the weekend to put themselves in pole position to claim the league title.

Suddenly, our prospects look so bleak even Nigel Adkins would struggle to put a positive spin on things. But we cannot afford to write off our last five games as meaningless. With a six-point gap between ourselves and Portsmouth in 7th, securing a play-off place should be a relatively simple task. Yet if we are to have any chance of play-off success, it’s essential we don’t repeat the mistake of 2018/19 and limp in on a horrendous run of form.

Performance levels have undoubtedly dipped in recent weeks, but the players have shown already this season there is sufficient resolve to turn this run of form around. As much as a win over Hull might not change our fortunes this season, it would send a statement to the play-off contenders that we aren’t done yet. Denying Hull the chance to secure automatic promotion should also provide sufficient motivation.

Although we lost to Blackpool at the weekend, they were no great shakes, and the game could have gone either way. Should we beat them in the return fixture in a week’s time, that would send a further message: even though we have suffered a huge setback we can go again and defeat an in-form side. If we can string a mini-run together at this stage, we could go into the play-offs having lost just three of our last 22 matches.

I’m aware I’m being positive in the extreme here and, even if we win our last five games, I will not blame any fan for suggesting it’s too little, too late, and that we’ll bottle it under the first sign of pressure.

But as professional sportsmen, the Lads should back themselves to turn things around. Lee Johnson should not be shouldering the burden of our previous failures, nor should players who have only arrived at the club this season. Even those who have been around for the duration should have sufficient fire in their bellies to prove everyone wrong. With there being no supporters in the stadium, they don’t even have the flimsy excuse of fan frustration affecting their performances.

A few weeks ago, this squad was lauded for their determination and efficiency in the face of an unsettled back four and injury woes. These are still the same players. They still offer the same strength in depth. And we should still back ourselves to beat any team in this division.

It is now down to the players and staff to prove it.

Michael Lough