In the words of rapper and singer-songwriter Mike Skinner: has it come to this?
Despite being unbeaten in their last 11 games, Sunderland head into the penultimate game of the season with play-off status far from confirmed. Just a single point separates the Lads in fourth and Sheffield Wednesday in seventh, though crucially Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers have played a game more than both ourselves and The Owls.
For weeks this play-off race has felt like a war of attrition. Every time you think Sunderland have done enough to pull clear, you realise one of our rivals have registered yet another win.
Usually our run of form, combined with the momentum generated by the glut of late goals we’ve scored under Alex Neil, would see us rapidly climb the table and pull away from the chasing pack. Yet prior to Saturday’s hammering of Cambridge United we still sat seventh in the table.
Finally, in our last home game of the regular season, we have the opportunity to put some daylight between ourselves, Plymouth and Wycombe when Rotherham United come to town.
A win would see us officially take the race for automatic promotion to the final day, albeit we would need a miracle of biblical proportions for that to become reality. More realistically, we’d require just a point to mathematically secure a play-off place. A draw tonight would at least put destiny firmly in our own hands and ensure that a victory at Morecambe on the final day would be enough to seal top six status.
A loss isn’t really worth thinking about. Sheffield Wednesday travel to lowly Fleetwood Town, who have won just once in 19 games. Should we lose and the Yorkshiremen do as expected, it will go down to a sickening final day shootout.
Ourselves, Plymouth and Wycombe would all be locked on 80 points; we would, at best, have a goal difference of +24, Plymouth would be one goal better off on +25 and Wycombe would be one worse off on +23.
Going into the Rotherham clash, we could again be short on numbers at the back with mainstays Carl Winchester and Dennis Cirkin facing a race against time to be fit, although Callum Doyle’s solid return to action against Cambridge was a major plus.
Rotherham have been stuttering towards the finish line in recent weeks and have picked up just six points out of the last possible 18. That run includes convincing losses to Shrewsbury Town, Burton Albion and Portsmouth, but a win on Wearside would see The Millers all but clinch automatic promotion.
The stakes simply could not be higher tonight. After weeks of slugging away, Sunderland have a great chance to land a near knockout blow on Plymouth and Wycombe.
Should we be successful we will then have a nice relaxing, stress-free play-off campaign to look forward to, where we traditionally fare so…oh, never mind.
Ha’way the Lads!