Lee Johnson has this message for his Sunderland squad as the gap to the top two closes further

Lee Johnson has urged his side to capitalise on their strong run of form as they set out on what could be a defining month in their promotion push.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 6:00 am

Having rescued a point in stoppage time at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday, the Black Cats came through a tough encounter with Swindon Town to make it 13 points from the last 15 available.

Rochdale visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday before fixtures against Portsmouth, Accrington Stanley and Lincoln City.

The Papa John's Trophy final against Tranmere Rovers sits in the middle of that run, and the Black Cats boss has urged his squad to be 'relentless'.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Lee Johnson praised his side for battling through more injury concerns to land three points on Tuesday night

Tuesday night's results saw them cut the gap to the top two to five points, and they have two games in hand on Hull City.

"There’s a lot of football still to play, that’s for sure, but you want to time your run – and now’s the time," Johnson said.

"We know how difficult our March is, and there might be a few bumps in the road. We hope there isn’t, but if there is, then all the more reason to capitalise now and make sure that we’re relentless getting those wins when we’re on this kind of run.

"Then every game becomes even more magnified in terms of how big it is because effectively, you can knock someone else out of the way with a good win and performance.

"Teams in this division are always going to take points off each other, so with 15 games left, we’ve just got to be relentless and try to win every game.

"We’ve got to keep building the performance and that doesn’t change. The players have been outstanding, and those draws turning into wins are credit to them."

Johnson had particular pride in his team's efforts as injuries continue to affect his defence in particular.

Conor McLaughlin became the latest player to be sidelined this week but a makeshift defence managed to keep a clean sheet.

Johnson has long said that the depth of his squad could be the deciding factor in the final weeks and months of the season.

"We’ve just got to keep churning out wins, and we’re in really good form," he said.

"We were disappointed with the first-half performance against Crewe, but given that we nicked that point at the end and with the three or four wins we’ve had, if you keep going like that until the end of the season, then you’re going to be right where we want to be.

"We’ve got to keep building these boys up at the moment, especially when you’re asking them to do so much physically.

"You’ll see other clubs start getting injuries to their big players, and you’ll see the big clubs with bigger squads coming through.

"Your Ipswich's will start to come through, and the smaller ones might start to fall away unless they get very lucky and avoid niggles and knocks."

Saturday’s opponents Rochdale were beaten 2-0 by Hull City on Tuesday night, leaving them second bottom of the table.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Sunderland AFC coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor