Phil Parkinson has this strong message to Sunderland's League One promotion rivals Rotherham, Coventry City, Portsmouth, Wycombe and Ipswich

Phil Parkinson has eyes on the top spot in League One after closing the gap to leaders Rotherham to just three points.

Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 2:10 pm

The Black Cats, in fifth, have been in stunning form since the turn of the year, winning 23 points with an incredible seven clean sheets to their name too since January 1.

It is a run of form that has sparked fresh hope of an automatic promotion place, though the battle for promotion remains fierce with several sides in the hunt.

Just six points separates leaders Rotherham and Fleetwood Town in eighth.

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Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson.

Rotherham dropped points against AFC Wimbledon but Coventry City, Wycombe Wanderers, Ipswich Town and Portsmouth all won.

Parkinson says the aim has to be automatic promotion and is looking forward to a free midweek to recharge the batteries ahead of two home games against Bristol Rovers and Fleetwood.

Parkinson said: “We have to have our eyes on that top spot.

“We have to keep on looking above us and keep on churning out the results

“We have had a great week, and now we have a few days to recharge the batteries and I feel we need that after three tough games but we will be ready for Saturday.”

Sunderland’s fixture schedule is easier this year than last after they were knocked out of all the cup competitions prior to Christmas during a torrid run of form which saw Parkinson under pressure.

However, since the victory away to Doncaster Rovers at the end of December, Sunderland have been in stunning form and have lost just once in 13 League One games.

Asked about the lighter schedule, Parkinson said: “It helps. Last year, when I came in, everyone said about the Leasing.com Trophy taking a lot out of the squad.

“Of course you always want to progress [in the cup competitions] but there is a bonus of not being in them.”

On the win at Oxford, Parkinson added: “The results of late have been good, the supporters are getting right behind the team, they see the absolute desire. The reception the lads got at the end and deservedly so.”