Under the stewardship of Phil Parkinson, a Sunderland promotion looked an unlikely scenario. The Black Cats were prone to defeats when a draw or win was possible and if they fell behind, few would give them hope of coming back to win or even draw. Under Lee Johnson, fans have seen a resilient Sunderland, a team that will fight to the end, not give up when they go behind, and if need be, win ugly.
Lee Johnson’s Sunderland have had major injury issues in defence but have come through it with flying colours thanks to the players ‘never give up attitude’ They now have their best chance of gaining promotion since their relegation to League One in 2018. With eight games remaining, they lie in third place but have games in hand.
Resilience Is Integral to a Sunderland Promotion Push
Sunderland are currently on a 14 game unbeaten run in all competitions. This run has seen the Red and Whites, rise up the League One table and into automatic promotion contention. It has also seen the Black Cats win at Wembley for the first time since 1973 as they lifted the EFL Trophy last month.
However, it has taken resilience and character in some games to come away with either a draw or win. In times gone by, several games would have seen their unbeaten run ended. However, Sunderland are made of much sterner stuff these days, and are well prepared before a game and can battle it out with anyone in the league.
During the last two games, Lee Johnson’s men have found themselves behind against fellow promotion chasers. On Good Friday, Oxford United visited the Stadium of Light and took a first-half lead. Sunderland won the game 3-1. On Easter Monday, a trip to second-placed Peterborough United ended in a draw but only after Johnson’s team fought back having fallen behind.
Games against the likes of Crewe Alexander, Bristol Rovers and Lincoln City have shown what Sunderland are made of. The former saw Sunderland trail two-nil only to draw. The Rovers game was won but it was a hard-fought, scrappy win where concentration was key. As was the draw with Lincoln, another team hoping to be in the promotion picture. Sunderland took the lead but had to be at the resilient best to claim a draw which could have easily ended in defeat.
Form Under Lee Johnson
When Lee Johnson took over at the Stadium of Light in December from Phil Parkinson, the best fans were hoping for was a play-off place. The team appeared low on confidence and struggling to find victories and convince that they could win promotion. Enter Lee Johnson.
Johnson brought a new style of play, thorough preparation and tactics that could be followed by his team but could also be changed in-game if needed. The former Bristol City boss has overseen 29 games. In that time, he has seen his side lose just three times, go from play-off hopefuls to automatic promotion challengers and also win the club’s first trophy in almost 50 years.
Sunderland have eight games to earn their place in next season’s Championship. One game more than second-placed Peterborough and two more than table-topping Hull City. Five points currently divide the Black Cats in third and the Tigers in first.
However, Sunderland and Hull are still to play each other. Plus, Johnson and his team have two tough fixtures against in-form Blackpool. The Tangerines have looked unbeatable of late, moving into the playoff positions on the back of their own impressive 13-game unbeaten run.
With League One being as close as it is this season, many teams can still make the playoffs. Sunderland will face several sides hoping to be in with a chance. They will also face the likes of Wigan Athletic and Northampton Town who are both battling to stay in the division and avoid relegation.
Head coach Johnson, however, is only thinking about one game at a time. Speaking to safc.com, he said: “We have some tough fixtures, and right now our full focus is on Charlton. After that, we’ll consider the next game – that’s how we have to look at it. When an opponent is in form, I think it sharpens the mind for our players and for us as staff.”
Promotion is in the hands of Sunderland this season. They have confidence, resilience and a determination to succeed. The longer their unbeaten run continues, the closer their promotion dreams will be to becoming a reality.