Why Sunderland's automatic promotion battle with Luton, Barnsley, Portsmouth and Charlton will go down to the wire

Jack Ross and James Fowler.
Jack Ross and James Fowler.
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James Fowler believes the fierce battle for automatic promotion to the Championship will go down to the wire.

Sunderland, on 80 points, are second in League One with six games to go, with a slender one point advantage over Barnsley in third, though the Black Cats still have a game in hand.

Table-topping Luton Town lead the way, seven points clear of Sunderland, but there are five teams in total realistically battling for the two automatic promotion places.

Sunderland’s fate is in their own hands heading into today’s home game against Coventry City (KO 3pm) but have Barnsley (79), Portsmouth (77) and Charlton (76) breathing down their necks.

“The way the season has panned out, I think it will probably be like that [go down to the wire], there are teams in good form around us all still pushing for automatic promotion,” said Fowler.

“We have games against teams in the top half of the league with something to play for, hopefully that will mean the games are more open and that will suit us.

“On the back of Wembley would we have taken seven points from the three games? Possibly, yeah, maybe we looked a bit mentally tired the other night and we tried to freshen it up with a few changes.

“We don’t need to lift anybody, they know what is at stake, it is just making sure that we freshen up the group as much as we can without weakening it.

“The gaffer has always spoken about the group and it is the whole squad that will get us to where we want to be.

“That showed recently, Max Power and Dylan McGeouch coming in and doing really well, Bryan Oviedo another.

“Credit to them for being right and ready when asked, they have showed they have looked after themselves. We will need everyone between now and the end of the season.”

Assistant boss Fowler arrived on Wearside alongside Jack Ross last summer and the pair have overseen Sunderland’s push for promotion.

Looking back on the season, Fowler said: “It has been relentless, the amount of games, they come thick and fast, Saturday-Tuesday, the travelling involved for players and staff and the fans as well.

“It is our job to be doing that but the amount of fans we have taken to away games, the distance and the cost involved, credit to them.

“That has been so impressive, the backing we have had from day one.

“Football wise, there have been no easy games, teams have been up for playing Sunderland - either at home or away - teams have done that throughout the season, credit to the players for how they have dealt with that.

“It is not easy to go every two or three games, physically and mentally.

“Within most teams there are three or four real quality players and on top of that there is a physicality, an athleticism about sides.

“We are not the biggest of teams, set plays we have dealt with it better than we did at the start of the season. It is an ongoing process.

“There have been some really good entertaining games and teams near the bottom still want to play football as well.

“There is a variety of styles in this league, you don’t always know what you are going to face.”