Many people would have been forgiven for thinking that anything less than nine points from Sunderland’s triple header of home games would not be enough to get our automatic promotion aspirations back on track.
Even when we were out of touch with the leaders, we still had those games in hand thanks to cup runs and abandonments.
This last ten days has certainly proved that those unplayed fixtures were hardly an advantage over the other teams in the league.
I’d have much rather had points in hand than games in hand, especially when you look at the kind of run that Luton Town have put together to arrest total control of League One as we approach the final quarter of the season.
If we’d have seen off Blackpool and Accrington before Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over Gillingham, we’d be sitting pretty in second place, snapping at the heels of the Hatters.
I dare say it would have been transformative in terms of the general mood on Wearside which has shifted from
carefree optimism to a cautious hope we can still at least make the play-offs.
We desperately need to get back-to-back wins in this division. It hasn’t been done since December when we beat Barnsley and then Bristol Rovers.
Putting a block of wins together is essential to generate the momentum that we need to propel us to the automatic places - and to keep us there.
Wigan’s romp to the League One title last year featured blocks of wins, where they would take four victories on the bounce. While there was the odd defeat or stalemate here and there, they would bounce back and put another run together.
We’re not losing games, and that’s great. But every step forward seems to be met by a disappointing display in the next game or a failure to capitalise on the opposition’s clear failings.
At times, it feels like we’re driving with the brakes on.
Luton’s run is admirable - this is their best ever spell in the league - but there is little pressure from the chasing pack except from Barnsley.
This weekend, they face a Portsmouth side who haven’t won in the league since January 8, yet are still only five points away from Barnsley.
Luton can’t be expected to maintain this run until the end of the season - we need to be the team that they look over their shoulders and fear.
Tuesday’s win should be a catalyst. The safety-first strategy which yielded an average of two to three shots on target per game in recent weeks has been sacrificed for the same kind of
cavalier approach which saw us beat Barnsley at the Stadium of Light in November, arguably Sunderland’s best display of the season.
Our defensive frailties have been up for discussion especially in the Accrington game, but if Will Grigg took those two golden chances before Jack Baldwin conceded the penalty from
which Stanley took the lead, it would have been a different game.
We’re now creating chances and looking a much more attractive prospect going forward. Grigg is now off the mark, and hopefully now the floodgates can open.
There are still 42 points to play for. If we put a run together now, including Bristol Rovers tomorrow, we will pile the pressure on Luton and Barnsley and set up what would undoubtedly be
a grandstand finish to this League One season.
I desperately hope this won’t be yet another backwards step.