Sunderland’s nerves will be shredded in promotion run-in with Joey Barton’s ‘dirty’ Fleetwood Town on the horizon

I’ve never cared much for bank holidays, but the one we had two days ago was a particular stinker.

By Tony Gillan
Wednesday, 24 April, 2019, 14:48
Joey Barton

The draw at Peterborough United felt more like a defeat that any actual defeat that Sunderland have endured this season. The home side’s equaliser actually made people feel queasy. It was a proverbial kick in the last part of your anatomy you would choose for such an event.

I hope you aren’t reading this for fun and levity. I’m not in the mood. In fact go away. I’m trying to sulk.

No stay where you are. I have a plan to secure Sunderland’s automatic promotion. Drum roll...

They should win their three remaining games and hope that Barnsley drop a clanger. Brainy or what?

Well maybe not. My plan, if you can call it that, is not one that anyone disagrees with. It’s also impossible that anyone could fail to think of it for themselves.

This is because there is no alternative. It isn’t that there are better or worse plans. It’s that there are no other plans at all. None whatsoever. Not even a bit of a one. So it’s a depressing outlook at the moment.

But not a hopeless one. I do try to remain positive, to the point where I am occasionally forced to conflate it with blind hope.

The most encouraging thing to be said is that “anything can happen.” That glib phrase is about as hopeful as we can be about the situation.

Portsmouth are next and the game is up as far as automatic promotion is concerned if Sunderland don’t win. Neither side will expect an easy time and Pompey need to win almost as much as their opponents.

Unless Sunderland go into a comfortable two or three goal lead, something that nobody would seriously predict, then this Saturday afternoon will be a fraught one regardless of the result. I believe they can win, but I’m not looking forward to the match.

Three days after that is a decidedly awkward visit to Fleetwood Town, a mid-table side with little to play for. However, their manager has an unhealthy obsession with Sunderland.

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Joey Barton isn’t the brightest of blokes: about three percent as intelligent as he thinks he is. But he would love to upend Sunderland. Furthermore, his team reflects his personality.i.e. In all competitions so far this season they have accrued an incredible nine red cards and 118 yellows, (plus another 10 ten yellows that led to five of the nine reds for players receiving two cautionable offences).

This makes them easily the dirtiest side in League One. I expect you’re as ... er ... shocked as I am by this of a Joey team. It probably won’t be pretty on the pitch at Highbury next week. It might not even be safe.

(For the record, Sunderland have seen seven reds; two of which were rescinded while a third was for an off-the-field incident.)

The last scheduled game of 2018-19 is at Southend United in 10 days’ time. Sunderland will start the game as favourites. It might not particularly matter.

Who knows? Barnsley will also be favourites in their remaining couple of fixtures at home to Blackpool and away to Bristol Rovers. But they will be nervous too. They have failed to win 19 of their 44 games.

Hope lives, even if it is a bit under the weather. There are no foregone conclusions here.

I understand pessimism. What is unfathomable, and very irritating, is having to listen to people who seem to know the results of football matches that are yet to take place; who also “know” that Sunderland will lose in the play-offs.

If such people were worth listening to they would have cleaned out the bookies years ago.

No one imagines that another year in League One is not a stark possibility. But supporters of the other clubs currently vying for automatic promotion are taking nothing for granted either.

Everyone is nervous. Never give up and let’s leave the post mortems until the season is over. And if it’s the play-offs ... it’s the play-offs.

That’s life. Get on with it.