Stephen Elliott: A rollercoaster campaign ends in the play-offs and why there should be strong hope for Sunderland
On Sunday we finally saw this league campaign come to an end.
After the year we have had with Covid and lockdowns it probably should be celebrated that it has actually finished on time.
I’m unsure how I feel about Sunderland’s finishing position, though.
I genuinely don’t know if I should be celebrating the fact there’s still a chance of going up in the play-offs or disappointed that the team blew a seemingly huge opportunity to get up automatically.
This season has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Sunderland supporters.
Obviously winning at Wembley in the Papa John’s Trophy is a success in itself. I’m not a huge fan of that competition, but I suppose if you have to play in it then you may as well win it.
At one stage early on in the season you would have snapped the hands off having a chance of getting up through the play-offs given the poor run of form during the Phil Parkinson reign.
However, with a new owner and a new management team in place the team went on an outstanding run of picking up points going into the Easter period and because of this the automatic places looked like a real possibility, rather than a pipe dream.
I was convinced that Lee Johnson had found the formula to finally do what others had failed do and finish in the top two positions.
I spoke with some supporters during this time and some were not as enthusiastic as myself and leaned towards the outlook of - in their words - “this is Sunderland man, nothing is straightforward”.
Unfortunately they proved to be right and Sunderland’s good form disappeared over the past four or five weeks and eventually even getting into the play-off positions was not as smooth as it should have been.
Thankfully the last two games have seen the team pick up four points, which I suppose if we are looking for positives, cemented Sunderland in fourth spot in the table, which resulted in the highest league finish in the three seasons at this level.
A play-off semi final against Lincoln awaits and I suppose it’s probably what the team deserves when we look at the season as a whole.
Home form has not been outstanding but the fact that there may be a decent crowd in the return leg pushes the tie slightly in the favour of Sunderland.
If we are looking for psychological edges then Sunderland have also already got a knockout win against Lincoln (albeit by a shootout) in the Football League trophy and ran out convincing winners in the away game earlier in the season. Good omens? Who knows?
As we know from previous campaigns, the play-offs are never uncomplicated.
We have to believe in Lee Johnson and the players. This club need to be playing at a higher level and it’s time the players finally make this happen.
The play-offs are high pressure games and the team need to show that they can find that undoubted quality in offensive areas when it really matters.
Up until now in the league that has been missing. Now would be a great time to put that right.
Buckle up and hopefully we can enjoy the ride this time.