The advantage Sunderland have against Oxford United, Morecambe and Plymouth Argyle and how they will test promotion credentials
Ask any top-level manager and they will tell you that momentum is crucial in football.
It is hard to stop when you’ve got it and even harder to gather when you’re lacking it.
The next four games, however, provides Lee Johnson with a good opportunity to increase the pace of Sunderland’s momentum.
In October and the start of November, Sunderland lost three league games against Charlton Athletic, Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday.
The loss against the Addicks was annoying, to say the least, against a club that found themselves managerless and towards the bottom of the table.
In true Sunderland fashion and despite Charlton’s woes, the London outfit were able to come to the Stadium of Light and grind out a 0-1 win.
Then, the problems really began. Sunderland were thrashed by promotion rivals by an aggregate score of 8-1 away at the New York City Stadium and Hillsborough.
Throw in being knocked out of the FA Cup by League Two Mansfield Town and 1-1 draw against Bradford City (also of the third tier) in the Papa John’s and Lee Johnson was coming under increasing pressure.
Since that bad streak, however, Sunderland’s form has improved with the Black Cats taking seven points from three games against Ipswich Town, Shrewsbury Town and Cambridge United.
Those three games have been close, though, and Sunderland will need performances to improve if they are to be promoted from League One this year.
Sunderland have an opportunity to keep the train on the tracks on Wednesday evening when League Two role into the Stadium of Light in the Papa John’s Trophy.
If results in the cup are to be counted against Lee Johnson when they don’t go his way, then they should be counted in his defence if they do.
After that clash, Sunderland have the luxury of three more games in a row on Wearside.
First up are Oxford United who, under Karl Robinson, are a difficult side to play against and are masters in the dark arts at times.
They will also be bang up for it given events at the Stadium of Light towards the backend of last season.
Following The U’s visit, Sunderland face Morecambe the following Tuesday – a real opportunity to put more points on the board with The Shrimpers currently in 20th position in League One and flirting with relegation.
Underestimate them at your peril, though.
Following the Morecambe game, Plymouth Argyle, the surprise package of League One this season, will be next up for Johnson’s men.
Under Ryan Lowe, Argyle have performed admirably this season and will provide a stern test of Sunderland’s promotion credentials.
Winning the four games, particularly in the league, would go a long way to repairing the damage caused by the big losses to Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham.
Another seven points from those games and a confidence-boosting cup win would improve Sunderland’s league position and the feeling around the club.
Nine from three would send out a big message towards the rest of the division.
But let’s face it... if Sunderland can’t put a good run together against Morecambe, Oxford United and Plymouth Argyle (despite the trio’s merits and the Black Cats’ injury crisis), then they won’t deserve to go up.