The SEVEN key Sunderland fixtures that could define the club's League One promotion push
Sunderland’s fixtures for the 2021/22 campaign have been released – and will no doubt be forensically analysed ahead of the big kick-off on August 7.
Where are the fortunate runs of fixtures? Where may there be some sticky patches? And which fixtures could prove key come the end of the season?
We’ve taken a look at seven of the key games which ultimately could help to define Sunderland’s potential promotion push – as Lee Johnson’s side look to escape from League One at the fourth time of asking.
Wigan Athletic (H) – August 7
The opening fixture of any season is always key – it can help to set the tone for the coming weeks and will settle any early season jitters that may be present in the fanbase.
But Sunderland have won just one of their three opening days fixtures since dropping into League One, and that came back in the 2018/19 season.
The visit of Wigan Athletic will be a tricky start for the Black Cats, with the Latics having strengthened considerably over the summer months after their Bahrain-backed takeover.
They will be considered as a potential promotion challenger this season and so this will be a good early test of Sunderland’s own credentials.
And the immediate return of Max Power is sure to be an interesting sub-plot, too.
Wycombe Wanderers (H) – August 28
While the opening day fixture could have been more fortunate, Sunderland’s start to the season is – on paper at least – quite fortunate.
But how many times have we said that in recent years?
The visit of Wycombe Wanderers to the Stadium of Light comes at the end of a month in which the Black Cats will have faced Wigan, MK Dons, Burton Albion and AFC Wimbledon.
It’s a good opportunity to get some early points on the board, and after the Wycombe game will be the time to judge whether Sunderland’s start to the campaign has been a successful one or not.
It’s probably also worth caveating this with the fact that this game could yet be against Derby County – as the Championship relegation saga rumbles on.
Ipswich Town (H) – November 20
Along with Wigan, Ipswich have been one of the busier sides in the summer transfer window thus far and look set to assemble a strong squad under Paul Cook.
So this game in isolation would no doubt be a good indicator of whether Sunderland can match one of the better sides in the league.
But it could yet be given added significance given the games it precedes, in what is one of the Wearsiders’ trickier looking spells.
After October ends with games against Charlton Athletic and Rotherham United, November begins with an FA Cup tie and then a clash with Lincoln City – before the Tractor Boys come to town.
That could be a difficult spell of games for the Black Cats, but if they can come through it strongly then that will undoubtedly be a positive sign.
Fleetwood Town (H) – January 1
While this fixture may not have the same intrigue it once did given the departure of Joey Barton, it will still be a key one for Sunderland.
The festive period is another difficult one for Lee Johnson’s side, with the clash with the Cod Army coming after games against Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Doncaster – three teams who will fancy themselves to be among the promotion contenders this season.
So coming through that period unscathed, and then beating Fleetwood at the start of 2022, would be a real statement of intent from the Black Cats.
AFC Wimbledon (A) – February 12
This is less about a fixture being pivotal, and more about the week in which it sits being key to a promotion push.
Sunderland have stuttered at similar stages in recent years, and the months of February and March will be key if the side are to mount a successful promotion push.
But they haven’t been handed a kind start to February when it comes to travelling – with trips to Cheltenham Town and AFC Wimbledon in the same week.
That’s plenty of mileage to be racked-up, and two games which will be far from straightforward.
It may not look to be the most concerning period of fixtures on paper at present, but you can be sure it’s one Sunderland will know they will have to navigate with care by the time 2022 comes around.
Oxford United (A) – April 9
Sunderland have had some excellent ding-dongs with the U’s in League One, and this clash towards the end of the season could be a pivotal one if both teams are scrapping it out at the top of the table.
The Black Cats look to have been dealt a fairly favourable end to the season, but they will have to navigate a tough trip to the Kassam Stadium before they can think about their final four fixtures – which do look kind on paper.
This could be a make-or-break game given its placing in the season, and there is sure to be no love lost between the two sides.
Morecambe (A) – April 30
The final day of the season. Away from home. In front of a raucous travelling crowd.
When better to seal promotion from League One?
Let’s hope that Sunderland have it wrapped up long before the last game of the season – but this is a fairly kind final game if it does come down to the last 90 minutes of the season.