Joey Barton has a 'creepy obsession' with Sunderland but Black Cats can't take anything for granted against high-flying Fleetwood Town

It can’t be denied that Sunderland are in very decent nick at the moment.

Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 4:30 pm

The nonsense they supplied from October to Christmas looks to be behind them. They have now lost only one of their last 13 games and taken 26 of the last possible 33 points. If they maintain this form, they will be promoted.

The problem is that maintaining this form means beating some rather awkward opposition, who hold no compunction about deliberately attempting to prevent them from winning. Scoundrels.

Since this good run began with victory at Doncaster on December 29, Sunderland have won most of the fixtures we thought were winnable.

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Joey Barton reacts as he receives a red card from referee Kevin Johnson during the Sky Bet League One match between Wycombe Wanderers and Fleetwood Town.

I shall avoid saying “expect”. Who’s daft enough to follow Sunderland and expect or assume anything?

Saturday’s win at Oxford United was workmanlike, unspectacular and dragged out the fixture’s final 88 minutes to about a fortnight.

The match before was, quite frankly, easy. Rochdale were pitiful at times and Sunderland didn’t break sweat.

But the two games before were very each a very big deal this season. They were crunch games. In fact they couldn’t have been crunchier with added gravel.

The six-pointer against Ipswich Town dealt a crucial and a significant blow to the opposition. The six-pointer against Portsmouth – didn’t.

Those two games encapsulated Sunderland’s mixed bag of results against other teams around the top of the division this season and last.

It is difficult not to conclude that the top sides will stand or fall by how they fare against each other.

Next up are Bristol Rovers; a decent, mid-table side with nothing to lose.

So I’m going to expect, nay assume victory on Saturday. After that come two bigger looking fixtures.

I personally don’t enjoy games with so much at stake. One of the few advantages to floundering around League One is that Sunderland haven’t had to endure a derby match in four years.

I don’t miss them; or at least the anticipation of them. Nothing compares to a derby, but there are still some fraught looking encounters ahead of Phil Parkinson’s side this season.

On Tuesday come Fleetwood Town. This is a bigger game than anyone foresaw. Fleetwood were “supposed” to have fallen away by now, but they haven’t.

Add their manager’s creepy obsession with SAFC into the event and the game looks far from easy.

Then there is Coventry City who have only lost one “home” match. They have a good side who are efficiently doing the business. They seem to be additionally invigorated by the chip on their shoulder they have about Sunderland. Not easy.

Peterborough United at home on Easter Monday could be interesting too.

But the one that’s already putting me off my breakfast, even now, more than 10 weeks before it takes place, is a game which may yet prove meaningless.

Rotherham United away on the last game of the season.

I don’t even want to think about the possible tension that day. So I shall end this piece with the following pointless advice.

Try not to worry.