The added incentive for Sunderland to finish on a high in League One - as they aim to avoid a cursed position
If Sunderland need any added incentive to ensure they end their regular League One season on a high, then they can find it in the history books.
The Black Cats currently sit fourth in the third tier table and know that victory over Northampton Town on Sunday afternoon will seal fourth place as a minimum – providing Lincoln City don’t recover a nine-goal deficit.
But any dropped points against the Cobblers could see Lee Johnson’s side finish the season in fifth position should the Imps capitalise on the slip-up.
And as Sunderland found out in 2019, that position has proven to be somewhat cursed in the history of the League One play-offs.
After finishing fifth in the 2018/19 season, the Black Cats – then managed by Jack Ross – suffered agony as they were beaten at the death by Charlton Athletic in the play-off final.
They aren’t alone in that regard, either. You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time a side won the League One play-offs after finishing in fifth, when Barnsley triumphed over Swansea City on penalties.
Indeed, only twice since the third tier was rebranded as League One have teams who have finished in fifth won the play-offs. It’s far from a good omen for any side finishing in that position this term.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the teams finishing in third and fourth tend to have the best records in play-offs (five wins apiece), while on three occasions have the side in sixth spot clinched promotion.
Finishing on a high is key for Sunderland, then – if the history books are anything to go by.