So that’s that then. Playoffs it is.
After a few weeks of ever decreasing optimism in my previews I now have to admit defeat -much like Sunderland since Easter – and embrace our playoff destiny. Enough has been said about last week’s “must-win” (source: me, in last week’s preview) embarrassment at home to Accrington Stanley already, and midweek’s draw at home to Blackpool was a bit better in some ways, worse in others and, crucially, still a long way from where we need to be.
We now have two games left to try to build up some kind of form/momentum for a playoff charge. On the one hand, a late upturn in form would fit the topsy-turvy nature of this season as a whole, as well as the apparently all too real Streakiness of Lee Johnson’s managerial formbook.
On the other, it’s increasingly hard to see how a team who apparently have completely forgotten what it was they were doing to go on a 14-game unbeaten run (of which 10 were wins) little more than two months ago; will relight the fires in time.
Despite the current poor run of form, and Sunderland’s general awful record in playoffs of any type, the bookies have us as favourites as things stand. Clearly, they still see the potential in us, and that has to start to realise itself today. Plymouth (a) is one of the highlights of the season usually, both for the fans who get to undertake the mammoth journey, and for the pundits who get to regale their audiences with the all-important fact that it’s the longest away trip of the weekend.
On the pitch, we won there 2-0 in 18/19, and they were in League 2 last season, so we’re 1 from 1 at Home Park in League One so far.
Having flirted with relegation earlier in the season, I’ve seen comments that Plymouth fans have been complaining they’ve been on the beach since early March as there’s no chance they can go down. In truth, it really shouldn’t matter how they play or how up for it they are. Sunderland need to win this game, and, in all honesty if we don’t it’s both a sad indictment of the mentality of this group, and also a stark warning for what may be to come in the playoffs. I know we technically could miss out, but that, in my opinion, isn’t going to happen regardless of today’s result.
This is serious now. Five of the last seven Sunderland performances and results (Peterborough and Hull aside) have been, in the main, embarrassing, appalling and in no way befitting of what we should ever expect from a Sunderland side at this level. This squad have lost all of the goodwill they built up to get to within a whisker of the automatics, and they have to start putting this right.
It may be okay for fans, should they want to, to write this season off. But it is absolutely unacceptable for the players or management to do the same. Today’s remit is very simple. Win.