Sunderland will secure promotion from League One at the first time of asking - but the Black Cats are going to make piggin’ hard work of it.
That’s the prediction from Big Bob the Psychic Sunderland Pig, who reckons Jack Ross’ team will need to go through the play-offs, rather than winning automatic promotion.
Big Bob, a popular pet at Down at the Farm, near Houghton, prophesied victories over Tunisia, Panama and Sweden during England’s World Cup campaign, as well as defeat to Belgium and so we decided to set him an even more challenging test.
This time, Bob was released from his pen and asked to choose his favourite sow rolls from one of four bowls, labelled ‘champions’, ‘promotion’, ‘play-offs’ and ‘mid-table.’
At first it looked as though fans’ hopes were set to be dashed, with Bob shunning both ‘champions’ and ‘promotion’ buckets in favour of making a bee line for the one marked ‘play-offs.’
The sudden death format has been particularly cruel to Sunderland, who have contested the play-offs three times over the years, and never won.
A 2-0 aggregate win over Newcastle in the 1990 semi-final was enough to take Sunderland to Wembley, only for them to lose 1-0 to Swindown, then return to the top flight anyway, after Swindon’s punishment for financial irregularities saw them denied promotion.
The epic 1998 play-off final was one of the greatest games Wembley has ever seen, with Sunderland drawing 4-4 with Charlton after extra time and finally losing 7-6 on sudden death penalties.
Penalties were also Sunderland’s undoing the last time they contested the play-offs, with Jon Oster, Jason McAteer and Jeff Whitley all missing their spot-kicks to hand West Ham victory in the 2004 semis.
Fans could have been forgiven for dreading more of the same, but thankfully Big Bob had one more surprise up his snout.
Eating briefly from the ‘play-offs’ bucket’, he immediately turned his attention to the one marked ‘promotion.’
Down at the Farm owner – and life-long Sunderland fan – Will Weightman was happy with that.
“I’m reasonably pleased,” he said.
“I think we should be looking at automatic promotion, but I will take the play-offs.
“It will just be nice to be heading in the right direction for a change.”