The inside track on League One title contenders Hull City, Peterborough United and Sunderland ahead of huge weekend
The Easter weekend fixtures will likely have a huge say on where the League One title ends up this season, with Hull City, Peterborough United and Sunderland all battling for honours.
League leaders Hull City have 70 points from 38 games, a point clear of second-place Posh who have also played a game less.
Third place Sunderland – in stunning form since the turn of the year – face Oxford United on Good Friday and Posh on Monday in a huge game in the battle for automatic promotion.
The Black Cats are just three points behind Hull with two games in hand.
Hull must aim for six points from mid-table Crewe Alexandra and relegation-threatened Northampton Town.
The really big game will be on Monday when Peterborough United host Sunderland. With Posh at Fleetwood Town and Sunderland versus Oxford United on Good Friday, the picture could have changed by then but they look the main threats to Hull.
Sunderland are the form team.
Here we examine the three clubs in more detail.
“There is a quiet confidence but the scarring of the last couple of years means no one wants to get carried away,” explains the Sunderland Echo’s Phil Smith.
“Two years ago they were in a very similar position. They drew 1-1 at Peterborough on Easter Monday and that sort of ended their push for the top two.”In 2019 Sunderland went to London Road on the back of losing the Trophy final on penalties at Wembley.
“There’s definitely been a shift in the mood and Wembley was a big part of it,” says Smith. “Even with the fans not there everyone at the club is aware of it.
“The ownership being settled has been massive and it’s allowed everyone to focus on the football and enjoy it.
"Now he’s had a few months you can see the Lee Johnson impact. In the early part of the season they were dropping so many points against teams near the bottom but they’re gone from a win-one-draw-one situation into the last 10 games, where they’ve won eight.”
Former Bradford City striker Charlie Wyke has 27 goals this season, compared to 11 in his previous two Wearside campaigns combined, but Smith points to the other end too.“They’ve been without four of Phil Parkinson’s first-choice back five – (Jordan) Willis, (Tom) Flanagan, (Bailey) Wright and Denver Hume have been injured – but Luke O’Nien has been playing alongside Dion Sanderson at centre-half and they’ve both been excellent,” he says.
Despite not having the depth of Sunderland or Hull, who had plentiful attacking options to make light of Josh Magennis and Gavin Whyte’s international call-ups, the mood at Peterborough is good too.
“We’ve won two out of seven and there we are a point behind with a game in hand!” says Alan Swann of the Peterborough Telegraph.
“They’re a very experienced League One club and the manager (Darren Ferguson) has won promotion from the division twice before.
“Also, they could have a fully-fit squad by Friday. Siriki Dembele’s been carrying a back injury but if he and Jack Taylor are back, that will be massive because our first-choice XI is as good as anybody’s but we probably haven’t got the strength of cover of some others.”
Sunderland have three consecutive away games in mid-April, the last at the KCOM Stadium, whereas Peterborough’s biggest remaining tests will be at the end, Charlton Athletic and Lincoln intertwined with Doncaster home and away.
Consecutive games against Fleetwood and Sunderland – sandwiching them in the form table – then Lincoln look massive for Hull.
“Once you start looking at that end goal and lose focus on what’s two feet in front of you, you’re in trouble,” warns Hull’s coach and former Peterborough player and manager Grant McCann.
It is easier said than done.
Left-back Callum Elder admitted to The Yorkshire Post: “When other teams around you are playing you’re going to see how they’re getting on, it’s natural isn’t it?”The task for Peterborough and Sunderland is therefore simply to keep up the pressure on Hull, who piled it on themselves at the start by insisting only promotion would do this season.
Thirteen points behind, even with four games in hand, Doncaster’s form means they can no longer do that but they can make the play-offs if they can pull themselves together.“As you saw with us, you can lose a game then win four or five to put yourself back in the picture,” says McCann, who managed Rovers too. “You can’t write anybody off at the minute.”
That is the beauty of this season’s League One.