The Chronicle

Haven’t we seen this all before?

- By JAMES HUNTER Sunderland writer james.hunter@reachplc.com

THE sense of deja vu surroundin­g Sunderland’s faltering automatic promotion bid only gets stronger.

With Aiden McGeady nursing a foot injury, the Black Cats threw away two points and with them what was likely their last chance to put meaningful pressure on the top two.

Is it 2021 or still 2019?

The first clue is McGeady was absent with a badly-bruised foot rather than playing on despite a broken bone.

Given the opponents were Hull City and the venue was the KCOM Stadium, rather than Portsmouth and the Stadium of Light, it must be 2021.

However, the parallels between this season and 2018-19 are there for all to see.

Sunderland worked themselves into a good position going into the run-in two years ago, only to come up short in the automatic promotion race with the influentia­l McGeady hampered by injury.

Of course, the maths do not yet say they have missed out on automatic promotion - theoretica­lly they can still catch leaders Hull and second-placed Peterborou­gh - but no-one seriously believes at this stage they can claw back a sevenpoint deficit on Posh, let alone an 11-point deficit on the Tigers even with a game in hand of the latter.

No, barring a major shock, Sunderland are play-off bound.

With Lincoln snapping at their heels and Blackpool coming up on the rails, they have a fight on their hands to hang on to third place but they need two wins from their final four games to make sure of a playoff spot - and they should get the points they require.

Just like in 2019, though, it is hard not to think of what might have been and rue the missed opportunit­ies which have cost them automatic promotion.

Their form has deserted them at just the wrong moment.

The 12-game unbeaten run which brought them to within touching distance of the top two has given way to a five-game winless streak.

The draw at Hull was greeted with relief as it brought to an end a run of three successive defeats - but there was little to celebrate.

Another decent performanc­e against strong opposition maybe and while they could point to similar displays against Charlton and Blackpool recently the difference this time was they earned a point.

However, the same old failings came to the fore.

Sunderland have been undermined in recent games by their alarming tendency to concede soft goals.

Two set-pieces in the defeat against Charlton, two more setpieces in the defeat against Wigan, a sloppy goal from open play in the defeat against Blackpool.

Add to that catalogue two more desperatel­y poor goals against Hull.

With Lynden Gooch a constant threat down the right, livewire Jordan Jones had already hit the woodwork from one cross before he headed Sunderland in front after only ten minutes.

However, Callum McFadzean was found wanting on the halfhour as he failed to stop Mallik Wilks’ cross and Bailey Wright allowed Josh Magennnis to get away from him and head the equaliser.

Grant Leadbitter restored Sunderland’s lead from the penalty spot a few minutes later after Callum Elder had handled.

Yet there was more deja-vu defending in the second half when McFadzean was again weak against Wilks and Wright again allowed Magennis to get the better of him and head his side level for the second time.

Substitute Aiden O’Brien had two great chances to nick a winner in the closing stages, first denied by goalkeeper Matt Ingram and then heading against the bar from the resulting corner.

Head coach Lee Johnson had put an extra man in midfield against Hull and that improved Sunderland’s pressing.

They looked good going forward, particular­ly in the first half, and Hull struggled against them.

Yet Sunderland’s problems are at the other end of the pitch.

They are without five centreback­s - Conor McLaughlin, Tom Flanagan, Jordan Willis, Dion Sanderson and Arbenit Xhemajli through injury and while Wright was partly at fault for both goals he has been thrown straight in at the deep end after returning following two months out and has immediatel­y been asked to play TuesdaySat­urday-Tuesday.

Sunderland’s back four has regularly contained two central midfielder­s, Max Power and Luke O’Nien.

Somehow, though, Johnson has to tighten up his porous defence if Sunderland are to avoid another repeat of 2019 when play-off heartbreak followed their automatic promotion disappoint­ment.

 ??  ?? Deja vu - Lyndon Gooch against Hull in 2020 and, right, Max Power against Portsmouth in April 2019
Deja vu - Lyndon Gooch against Hull in 2020 and, right, Max Power against Portsmouth in April 2019

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