The team that could shock everyone in League One and play a part in the ultimate Sunderland ‘Til I Die ending

Here we go again, then. It’s that time of year.

Excitement and optimism slowly giving way to fear and existential dread.

Lynden Gooch in action against Charlton

Lynden Gooch in action against Charlton

The poring over fixture lists, every opportunity and every banana skin assessed from every angle.

The creeping doubts, the slowly building up opposition teams until they are in your head, their form becoming so good they’re practically Barcelona.

The chinks in your own team’s armour seemingly growing bigger every passing minute.

You can distract yourself for a while, of course.

Lyle Taylor is playing superbly for League One's in-form team

Lyle Taylor is playing superbly for League One's in-form team

Game of Thrones is back and who knows what happens next now that Jaime Lannister and Bran are reunited.

Line of Duty is as good as ever and I can’t wait to be vindicated about Superintendent Ted Hastings. (I’m two episodes behind, no spoilers please).

It’s always there, though, somewhere in the back of your mind.

Will Doncaster Rovers’ Ben Whiteman’s ankle recover in time? Is Marcus Maddison’s return to form at Peterborough United going to come at the worst possible time?

Burton Albion are in superb form and have Pompey and Luton to play, so that’s good, but then again, their play-off challenge is over now so will they really keep taking points off teams at the top?

It’s always this way with Sunderland, though what a refreshing change that the prize at the end is promotion, rather than a last-minute escape to mediocrity.

It can be too easy to lose sight of that.

Especially after a loss like Sunderland’s last weekend and the challenge for Jack Ross this week is to ensure any negativity is firmly batted to one side.

To remind his players that they are third in the table with their fate in their own hands.

That they have lost only three times this season and so have every right to feel that they are the best team in this league after Luton Town.

Sunderland have had to deal with the burden of pressure all season in a way that their rivals have not.

Other teams will queue up to remind them that they have the biggest budget, the most to lose, etc etc.

As Ross himself has said, his team don’t often get told they’re a good side. Others do.

His message this week will be bullish after the stinging (and fair) criticism that followed the Coventry City defeat.

It is a five-horse race now and there is no doubt that the momentum has shifted.

Barnsley had a fine win at the weekend, but their form has been patchy and the sideshow of Daniel Stendel’s alleged altercation with Joey Barton cannot have helped their focus this week.

Sunderland were in a superb position a week ago, but recent results will have led to some doubt .

Right now, the teams feeling best about themselves will be Portsmouth and Charlton.

Pompey buckled under the pressure of leading the race at the turn of the year, thrown too by a number of key loan departures and injuries in January. Seemingly dropping entirely out of the hunt has liberated them and their form is impressive.

Charlton, meanwhile, have emerged as the mightily-impressive gatecrashers of this race.

Lee Bowyer is arguably the manager of the season for the team he has built against a backdrop of constant off-field uncertainty.

In Lyle Taylor, they have one of the best players in the league.

They don’t concede many, their January gamble on Jonny Williams is paying off and the mightily talented Joe Aribo is fit and firing again.

The fixture list is kind for them, but their surge has perhaps come just too late.

If they fall just short, they are a side no one will want to face in the play-offs.

One interested party, you suppose, might enjoy that.

During extra time at the Checkatrade Trophy final, the camera cut seemingly every other minute to Michael Gray on commentary duties.

It was a good enough story then and just imagine ... Sunderland v Charlton in the play-offs.

It’s hard to think of a more fairy tale ending for Netflix’s second series of Sunderland ‘Til I Die.

For the rest of us, the tension would be too much to handle.

Charlton’s form is a neat reminder of what Sunderland have done this season, though. They’ve taken four points from their games against them and only lost once to sides in the top seven.

Sunderland will perhaps feel the pressure more keenly than anyone this weekend, but this group have handled that superbly all season.

From every defeat and setback they’ve bounced back.

They’re a good side, and Ross will be eager to stress that this week.