Match Preview – Win At Bristol Rovers Could Be The Catalyst For Promotion

Sunderland can go into the automatic promotion places with victory at Bristol Rovers this weekend. James Reay previews the Black Cats' trip to The Memorial Stadium
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Despite not actually playing, Sunderland’s season could well have taken a decisive turn thanks to results (and one in particular) in Tuesday’s midweek round of fixtures. Blackpool’s 3-1 win over Peterborough has put LJ’s boys firmly in the driving seat.

For all of you thinking, “We’ve been here before”, well, you’d be right. It was from a not-too-dissimilar position that the 18/19 Jack Ross incarnation of Sunderland AFC spectacularly failed to clinch an automatic place when it was, as it is now, totally in our hands. BUT (and this is a big BUT), things are different now; we have a collection of some of the most dangerous and talented players in the league, performing as consistently well as can reasonably be expected at this level.

We have a manager who (if you believe Grant Leadbitter, Max Power, Dion Sanderson and others, at least), is getting through to the squad and making this happen. In previous seasons (and even arguably earlier this), Sunderland have won games almost by accident, getting points purely by having better players who can produce occasional magic. Those days are gone.

Even when we don’t win (an increasingly rare occurrence these days) we still play well and look dangerous. Saturday’s point at home to Lincoln was initially disappointing, but in context and with perspective, we were bound to not win again at some point, and we didn’t play badly – just not to the high standards we’ve set previously.

It’s in our hands now – we are only two points behind Peterborough, with a game in hand plus a game against them to boot – that’s a potential six-point swing

A reaction is important – we’ve said this before, too – but I’ve more faith in this side right now to actually provide that than I have in any other Sunderland side for quite a few years.

Getting back to Saturday, the lads’ task away at The Gas (and for the rest of the season) became incredibly simple after Tuesday night. It’s in our hands now – we are only two points behind Peterborough, with a game in hand plus a game against them to boot – that’s a potential six-point swing. We only need three. If we win and they don’t, we go second; our superior goal difference rendering even a draw for them useless if we take the maximum.

Bristol Rovers are nothing to fear either. They’re on a poor run of form – the managerial appointment of someone recently sacked by Fleetwood doesn’t appear to have the desired effect – what a shock (it’s not a shock). I’m sure there will be excuses from them and we’ll be chastised for celebrating if we do win, but as with everything else that little fella says, it’s best ignored.

Every team who wins automatic promotion has that moment in the season where, when they look back after the event (in our case I envision this being the lull after Max Power’s Spotify playlist finishes), it becomes clear that there was “no looking back from then on”. We can think back over our successful promotion seasons of days gone by to find them. There are games that, if won, are the catalyst.

I think this is one of them.

James Reay