Sunderland AFC in the play-offs: Portsmouth, Charlton and Doncaster assessed ahead of the battle for promotion

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Sunderland will kick-off their play-off campaign against Portsmouth on Saturday - but how are their rivals shaping-up ahead of the end of season lottery?

The Black Cats will have to find a way past Pompey, and then beat either Charlton or Doncaster, to secure a return to the Championship at the first attempt.

How Sunderland's play-off rivals are shaping-up

How Sunderland's play-off rivals are shaping-up

And with the League One play-offs looking set to be one of the most competitive seen in recent years, we cast an eye over Sunderland’s rivals to see how they are faring ahead of the games that could define their season:

PORTSMOUTH

Pompey provide Sunderland’s first hurdle in the play-offs and, having failed to be beaten by the Black Cats in three meetings already this term, Kenny Jackett’s side will be full of confidence ahead of the two-legged affair.

Recent form

Pompey come into the play-offs on a mixed run of form - having won just two of their last five outings. Indeed, they have failed to win their last three League One fixtures, although did only lose one of them.

Last five: DLDWW

Key player

It was no surprise to see Pompey defender Matt Clarke scoop up most of the club’s end of season awards - and it’s the cultured centre back who could prove key for Jackett’s side in the play-offs. Calm, composed but with a ruthless defensive streak, Clarke will be confident of keeping Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke quiet over two legs.

What they’re saying

Portsmouth boss Jackett said: “The play-offs are a big opportunity for us and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a cup competition now and different from the league format.

“We have to make sure we keep clean sheets because we haven’t had enough of them at home all season, which is up to the back four and keeper to organise.

“The lines have blurred a bit in recent weeks and we’ve become too open at the back, without delivering through our front players.”

CHARLTON ATHLETIC

If you asked Sunderland fans which team they wanted to avoid in the play-offs, plenty would have been keen to swerve the Addicks such was their strong end to the season.

They finished third - and were handed arguably the most favourable draw in the play-offs as they take on Doncaster ahead of a potential Wembley date with the Black Cats or Pompey.

Recent form

Charlton’s late-season surge saw them briefly emerge as contenders for automatic promotion.

And while they came up just short in that department, a run of just one defeat in five stands them in good stead ahead of the play-offs.

Last five: WWWLW

Key player

Fans of the Black Cats have looked on in envy over the season as one of their summer targets - Lyle Taylor - has taken League One by storm.

The prolific striker chose Charlton over Wearside and has delivered the goods for his new side - netting 21 times this campaign.

What they’re saying

Taylor was full of confidence ahead of the play-offs, saying: “I don’t care what the points on the table say, this is the best team in this league and I’m so proud to be a part of that.

“I’ve never played with a group of boys as talented in my life. In training, I’ve seen some of them do things that I’m sure some Premier League players can’t do.

“These little moments of magic make me as a senior player be so proud and happy to be part of this.”

DONCASTER ROVERS

The surprise package have taken League One by storm and, while they will be rank outsiders for the play-offs, it would be unwise to write-off Grant McCann’s side.

Recent form

Rovers suffered something of an end of season stutter, although managed to regain focus to seal the final spot in the top six ahead of Peterborough.

Having won just two of their last five however, McCann will be well aware that his side will require improvement as they prepare to battle the Addicks.

Last five: WDLLW

Key player

While the goals of Jon Marquis - all 21 of them - have been a key part of Rovers’ success this season, it’s former Sheffield United midfielder Ben Whiteman who has caught the eye of most on-lookers.

His dynamic displays in the centre of the park have helped drive Rovers forward, and his creative ability could be key to unlocking a stubborn Charlton defence in the semi-finals.

What they’re saying

McCann praised the unity of his squad ahead of the play-offs, saying: “We wanted to get that top six place - we owed that to our fans that came out in such big numbers and got behind us.

“I’d said it earlier on in the week that when they come here and support us it certainly makes a difference.

“The belief has grown in this side and I’m so proud for the players, staff and everyone at the club.

“This group is together and they all believe in each other, they drive each other every day and I’m sure that will continue going forward.”