Stephen Elliott: The play-offs are pressure games and only the strongest will rise - and why Sunderland should be concerned

I spoke last week about how finding a bit of form going into the play-offs was important.

Monday, 26th April 2021, 4:27 pm

With the team seemingly losing that killer instinct of winning games, it is definitely a worry heading into this part of the season.

Watching the first 45 minutes against Accrington on Saturday I was both pleased and bemused.

I was happy as the team – and just as importantly Charlie Wyke - had looked like they found their mojo again. Some of the attacking play and energy was a joy to watch.

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Wyke scored his 29th and 30th goal of the season, which is a phenomenal return for a guy who has totally turned his fortunes around at the football club.

However, I was a little bit frustrated as watching the team play in full flow made me think those top two places should have been achievable going into the last few games.

Again though, and disappointingly, the recent form and lack of belief seemed to seep into the team once again, once the second half started.

Accrington Stanley, to give them credit, showed a lot of character to get back into the game but Sunderland’s defending at times once again contained both collective and individual mistakes.

Luke O’Nien’s own goal probably sums up where the team is at the moment mentally.

There seems to be no cohesiveness across the back line and Lee Burge seems to have lost all his confidence.

This is especially worrying as that defensive strength was the catalyst for the team’s rise up the table after Christmas.

Even after Sunderland’s third goal, which if we are totally honest was undeserved, that bad habit of not getting the job done arose again.

The play-offs are not yet guaranteed but fortunately I think the team have already done just enough to start thinking about them.

The manager, even though I believe he has done a really good job so far, needs to take a bit of responsibility for these last few weeks.

He has made a lot of changes both going into and during games in this poor run of form and I feel he needs to find a settled team and he needs to find it quick.

I know he has had injuries to deal with and they haven’t helped but it does feel like he is unsure what is his best shape or team is at the moment.

This uncertainty could not have come at a worse time, especially when other teams are starting to become a bit more consistent.

There are three games left to try and find a formula on becoming a winning force again. Ten goals have been conceded in the last five games and if that doesn’t change then Championship football will not be seen at the Stadium of Light next season.

Going forward I still feel the squad have some of the best attacking prowess but as long as the weak underbelly and mindset is still alive in certain players then this quality won’t matter.

It’s up to Johnson, his staff and the team to mend this, as these next few weeks will define the season.

The play-offs are pressure games and only the strongest will rise.

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