Lee Johnson has this clear message on Sunderland's progress ahead of the play-off campaign

There was, Lee Johnson said, a steeliness about his players and around the club over the last week.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 6:00 am

"I wouldn't say it's a party atmosphere," he explained.

"It's been quite focused - quite steely and pretty consistent."

It is, unquestionably, a seismic week for him, his group, and the club in general.

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Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson
Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson

League One is unlikely to be any easier a division next season and should Sunderland fall short, the disappointment both internally and externally will be acute.

Yet there is undoubtedly a stronger sense of calm around the Academy of Light now than there perhaps has been in previous times.

A calm that comes from a path clearly set out from the top of the club.

One that will be in place win, lose or draw, both on Wednesday night and beyond.

"Stability is always important because it allows you to grow and make better decisions," Johnson said.

"However long I am here, and I hope that is a really long time, I'll do my bit to try and make the place better in the afternoon than when I walked in in the morning.

"If enough people at the club have that attitude, which they do, then I think we'll be alright.

"I think the club will return where everyone believes it should be.

"I can't give a timescale on that, whether it's going to be 18 months, two years, we don't know.

"But if you make more right decisions, eventually it will come to you.

"The starting point for us is what we've always said, that we want to be brave and we want to be bold," he added.

"From a manager's point of view, you take your confidence from the communication you get from above. When you get it, it allows you to puff your chest out, to go out and make those bold decisions.

"I'm definitely in that position at this club right now.

"Hopefully then other people feed off the back of that. It doesn't matter whether that's a midfielder trying a brave through ball, or an academy coach bringing something new to a session.

"We want to create that environment where people have a thirst for knowledge and also to execute really well."

It's an assessment that cuts both ways.

If there is a recognition that patience could be required to reach the end goal, then there is also a recognition that promotion now does not mean Sunderland are back where they belong.

As clear as Johnson is in his belief that Sunderland are on the right path, equally clear is his message that there is much work still to be done.

"It's a huge club and I'm obviously very proud to be a custodian," he said.

"You can feel that size of the club.

"You can also feel what needs to be done and by the way, we are nowhere near finished.

"Even if we were successful in this play-off campaign, there is so much work to be done everywhere.

"The culture has got to improve, the detail has got to improve, every area of the club needs driving forward.

"But there are great people here and that's the important thing.

"With the backing of the fans, we can really move mountains and be as successful as we believe we can be."

It sums up Sunderland's campaign that the emotions as they neared this play-off campaign were mixed.

There has been, understandably, bitter disappointment that a top-two push that at one stage looked so promising faded away.

At the same time, being three games from promotion back to the Championship also seemed a long way away as Johnson surveyed the damage from the listless 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic on his first afternoon in charge.

Johnson came to win promotion, and so there is no excuses for that winless run in April.

The opportunity to make it a successful campaign, with a Papa John's win and the ultimate goal of promotion achieved, nevertheless remains intact.

"Naturally we probably would have taken the play-offs at that stage [after Wigan defeat].

"But then of course you get into a position where you're striving for more [automatic promotion].

"We never stopped striving for that, I think we maybe just ran out of legs in those performances. But there's no excuse for any of it.

"46 games finds you out and that's where you deserve to be, which for us is fourth in the division. That's no mean feat, it's not an easy league.

"I'd have loved to have a pre-season to implement what I wanted to do, but that wasn't the case and you don't get a job when everything is flying.

"So there's always stuff to work out and work through. There's always going to be bumps in the road, which we had.

"Now we've got to focus on these games and go and really give everything.

"We’ve got twelve days now to realise our collective dream, haven’t we?

"We’re doing it for ourselves, the club, the fans, each other, and the team.

"We want to build this group and build on this group and it’s a lot easier to do that if we achieve promotion at the finish line.

“That’s what we’re aiming for and what we will give everything to try and achieve. Hopefully we’ll get that bit of luck and the footballing gods will be on our side, and we can put in a performance.”

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