Because this has gone really well previously (here and here), our team of writers predict how the rest of the season will pan out. Strap yourselves in for some elite level crystal ball gazing!
Pretty tight this isn’t it? Even while trying to curb my natural (and I’m sure some will say annoying) optimism when it comes to Sunderland on the pitch at least, my predictions see us finish well in the play-off picture. In defence of the optimism, looking at the table as I write (post-Oxford, pre-Shrewsbury, 73pts and 6th place) and also at our remaining fixtures, it’s almost harder to make a case for us missing out.
Looking at the fixtures of eight sides above as I did while predicting the results, I couldn’t help but notice that our run was most certainly, on paper at least, one of the kindest. Not only do we only have two more of the eight to play ourselves, but there are a lot of games between these sides as well; and as we well know, both sides can’t win and a draw will likely help neither much.
Plymouth being outside my top-6 surprised me initially, although they certainly have one of the toughest run-ins of any. They’ve gotten to a decent position off the back of a run of good wins against sides well out of the picture, but they’ve a double header of Wycombe on Good Friday and Sunderland on Easter Monday. Lose to Wycombe and beating them on Monday will put us ahead of them if we do the expected (not always easy, but it is a prediction) and beat Shrewsbury at home ourselves. They then play Wigan and MK Dons after that.
Ultimately as all my fellow accumulator-losers will know, predicting results is incredibly hard. Football, especially at this stage of the season, is nigh on impossible to guess and there are always surprises round every corner. The results I picked for each game won’t happen, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the outcome at the end was similar.
Sunderland are in a great position to get a play-off place – rivals and neutrals will all think this, as we would if a rival were in the position we are. For once, let’s do what’s expected of us and see this out. It’s another go at a predictor and another kettle of fish entirely once we actually get to the playoffs, but as far as the run-in goes it’s in our hands, and I for one expect us to get there.
If anyone knows anything about things going down the wire, it’s Sunderland, in recent weeks a glut of late goals has seen the lads give themselves an excellent chance of qualifying for the dreaded end of season play-offs.
Since Alex Neil arrived on Wearside, we have accumulated an additional ten points with goals scored in the last ten minutes of games.
Without these goals, we would be keeping Portsmouth company in tenth place with no prospect of finishing in the top six and even if we had failed to beat Gillingham and Oxford, we would be below Oxford in ninth and clinging on to our play off hopes by our fingertips
As it is, Sunderland have shown a resilience and never say die attitude we seldom saw earlier in the season, indeed prior to Nei’s arrival we had scored just one winner in the last ten minutes of a game.
I truly believe this new found spirit and belief in our ability to break teams down will see us finish in fourth place and go unbeaten between now and the end of the season.
This might sound crazy at first glance, but I think we will draw against Plymouth and Rotherham and have enough to continue our impressive home form and win our other remaining home games.
As a loser with little else to do on a Wednesday evening, I have predicted every single result in League One until the end of the season and according to my calculations, Morecambe will already be relegated by the time we travel there on the final day.
Despite their tricky run-in, I think Plymouth will do enough to join us in the top six, accompanied by Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons, who I think will narrowly miss out to a Rotherham resurgence.
Should my utopian vision play out we will head into the lottery of the play-offs with plenty of momentum behind us.
One day, it’s got to be our turn, right?
Whisper it, of those competing for a play-off position, Sunderland AFC is actually the in-form team. That’s not fanciful thinking. Implausible as it may sound, it’s… fact. Of course trying to predict anything relating to this team of ours seems folly, even with the benefit of stats.
Yet, here we are.
Since my earlier WMS predictions (sixth and third), new man Alex Neil has steadied the ship and certainly tightened things up at the back. And after running through all remaining fixtures, my revised final predicted Sunderland finish is fourth.
Casting an eye over everyone else’s run in, it seems almost impossible that those of the red and white persuasion won’t have to endure the agony of playoffs again. Even with the customary bumps along the way. Whether that should be considered a success given the club’s objectives at the start seems moot.
For the avoidance of doubt, it isn’t. But promotion needs to be achieved and as things stand, it’s our only hope.
It’s comforting to see rival teams that previously laughed in the face of a suggested bad run, now begin to slide.
Yet, nervous glances will still be given in the direction of Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday as we continue with the next handful of matches.
Interestingly, those two sides have several upcoming tricky games. Wycombe Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and MK Dons feature among them. As such, my prediction table sees them finishing fifth and sixth respectively.
If we’re eyeing other results, a key fixtures will be when Sheffield Wednesday visit the MK Stadium. The Dons find themselves in fine form and will likely occupy one of the automatic positions come the last day of the season.
Another of note is Plymouth’s journey to Adams Park on Good Friday. As we have found to our expense Wycombe Wanderers can cause problems for anyone. Let’s not forget Gareth Ainsworth’s men will shortly attempt to slide into the top six by beating Wednesday on their own patch too.
Plymouth must face, my champions elect, Wigan to compound their challenge, who will surely offer up some stiff competition as they look to seal promotion automatically.
Importantly, Sunderland must still make the trek to Plymouth. That match will undoubtedly leave a lasting mark on our season one way or the other. Assuming of course that the kinder, on paper at least, sides of Morecambe FC, Shrewsbury Town and Cambridge United et al offer minimal resistance.
Placing all predictions aside, we can be sure of one thing, the playoff spots are ours for the taking. Continue to be defensively sound and start being a little more clinical in front of goal and Sunderland will be a difficult opponent for anyone they encounter in what remains of the campaign.
Crucially, let’s hope that includes Saturday 21st May 2022 too.
Things are getting exciting! The team that’s been running away with the league all season is capitulating at a rate that would make Lee Johnson and Jack Ross blush. Wigan refuse to lose their games in hand. MK Dons have turned into an unstoppable winning machine. Oxford have Oxforded it up. And, say it under your breath, Sunderland are approaching the end game in great form.
Thanks to our much improved defensive performances, and having picked up the knack of scoring late goals, we’re now top of the form table, and for that reason, I have us down to finish our remaining games without losing – a bold, grotesquely optimistic and extremely silly prediction.
We’ve proven ourselves against the strugglers of the league recently, overcoming their entrenched approach to games, and for that reason, I think we’ll get over the line against Shrewsbury, Cambridge and Morecambe, albeit the latter could be a sticky one if neither we or them have confirmed the play-offs/survival respectively.
So the question now is how will we fare against Plymouth and Rotherham. For me, Plymouth is the biggie, they’re the side that most people seem to be wary of of the current play-off contenders, and we have a patchy record on our visits 1,300 miles down south. On the other hand, we have played some of our best football against some of the better sides in the league, and so I have us down to come away with a pants-testing draw.
The Rotherham game is an intriguing one too for an altogether different reason, as the Millers are rapidly running out of time to reclaim automatic spot from MK Dons, but they arguably shouldn’t be out of the picture by the time we play them. That either means they’ll be desperate to get across the line or they’ll have completely stacked it, both of which I think play into our hands; if they’re still in the race, they’ll likely play more open, which we can take advantage of and hurt them with the attacking players at our disposal; if they’ve messed it up, they may be too demoralised to care.
From all this, I reckon we might surprise a few people, our own fans included, and finish fourth, owing both to our current form and defensive stability, and also Plymouth having an awful set of fixtures to end on. The dream would then be to stagger past Sheff Wed and get a deflated Rotherham at Wembley to end this League One nightmare.
What a difference a couple of months make as we now find ourselves in the enviable position of being top of the form table, with our fate in our own hands. Thankfully Alex Neil has brought a sense of stability to the performances which is a far cry from the bi-polar efforts under Lee Johnson and more latterly Mike Dodds.
The top eight clubs come into this run-in with one agenda, a mixture of form, and some with a fixture list to grind your teeth to the stumps. If we separate Wigan, who have remarkably caught up their games in hand, seemingly without any signs of fatigue, are heading to the title. So who will join them?
Mathematically it’s a shootout between Rotherham and MK Dons, with the latter looking best placed for it as the proverbial wheels appear to have come off Rotherham’s season. The Millers appear to be suffering from a little “pizza fatigue” as the curse of the EFL trophy seems to have completely gassed the Yorkshire side, amongst a fixture catch up. The Lads made the final in both 2019 and successfully in 2021, however the extra eight games to add to the 46 league games, with a dash of League Cup and FA Cup is a push for the best of squads, let alone a League One budget.
So I see MK Dons romping their way to second place, with the Millers falling away to a disappointing (for them) fifth. Plymouth have got a very tough run-in, but they are in very good form with a disciplined defence, and I’ve generously given them away wins at Wycombe and Wigan.
Those results will earn them the first loser position of third, just above ourselves, who I don’t see losing, but dropping points at Plymouth and Morecambe. Oxford and Wycombe miss out for me, and it’s got nothing to do with my unconscious bias towards their whopper managers. Sheffield Wednesday will do just enough to sneak that final play-off spot, with favourable fixtures against Fleetwood and Crewe.
That leaves Plymouth v Sheffield Wednesday, whilst the lads and Rotherham fight it out in the other semi-final. If we can discard the ghost of Lincoln, turn up to both legs, I see a Greggs v Ginsters final at Wembley on Saturday 21st May. The prize is Championship football next season, with a mid-summer start to allow for a winter break so we can all watch some heat stroke at the World Cup.