NUNO DEMANDS FINAL FLOURISH
WHEN Sunderland and Wolves meet this afternoon at the Stadium of Light, the contrast could not be much greater.
While Wolves are heading out of the Championship by the front door, the Black Cats are stumbling out of the back entrance.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s troops can break the 100-point barrier with a single point and will be expecting to bag all three to round off a sensational campaign.
Sunderland, meanwhile, have already been relegated, to make it back-to-back demotions, and know that even a shock victory would not be enough to lift them off the foot of the table.
While Wolves have moved effortlessly through the gears to leave the rest of the second tier pack in their wake, Sunderland haven’t been able to get out of reverse, managers Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman paying the price.
After last Saturday’s slightly anti-climactic goalless draw with Sheffield Wednesday, Nuno made it clear he wants to finish the season with a flourish.
And that could be bad news for Sunderland, who received a postrelegation shot in the arm with the news that unpopular owner Ellis Short is selling up to an ‘international consortium of football investors’ led by Eastleigh owner Stewart Donald.
“This season deserves to end better than today,” said Nuno. “It deserves to end with a win.
“We must feel the taste of winning because this is what we’ve been doing all season, and teams perform better when they are in winning momentums. So, let’s proceed and try to engage this momentum to the next season.”
Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce must decide whether or not to rest some of his stars when they go to Millwall.
Whatever happens this afternoon, Villa will finish fourth, so Bruce may decide to make changes ahead of the play-offs and a likely twoleg tussle with Middlesbrough, who currently occupy fifth place. Opponents Millwall had their play-off ambitions effectively ended by their 2-0 defeat at Boro last week, but will be determined to round off a magnificent campaign by seeing off another fat-cat at The Den. Like Bruce, Boro boss Tony Pulis has to weigh up making changes to his side for this afternoon’s game at mid-table Ipswich. Boro have secured their play-off place and will guarantee themselves fifth place with a point at Portman Road. Brentford and Hull go into their clash at Griffin Park with little to play for, and that could make for an entertaining final-day clash. The Bees’ play-off hopes went up in smoke when they lost 2-0 at relegation-haunted Barnsley last weekend, while Hull
made sure of their Championship status for next season with their astonishing 5-5 draw at Bristol City a couple of weeks ago.
Bristol City complete their season with a home clash against Chris Wilder’s Sheffield
United. Both teams slipped off the pace in the closing few months of the season and will be left with a feeling of ‘what if ’.
Nonetheless, the Robins did make it to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, while the Blades have performed well in their first season back in the second tier. There is plenty to build on for both.
Leeds will hope to round off a disappointing campaign, which has seen them flatter to deceive, with a victory when they host Ian Holloway’s QPR. With 12 wins at home and just three away, it’s clear that Rangers need to cure their travel sickness if they’re going to challenge next term.
Sheffield Wednesday (16th) and Norwich (12th) are another two clubs that would have hoped to have done much better this term.
The Owls have shown signs of improvement lately, as some of their injured stars return, and will be keen to beat Norwich at Hillsborough to finish the season on a high note.
PRIZE GUYS: Wolves’ Bright Enobakhare and Helder Costa share a moment with the Championship trophy
PAYING THE PRICE: Chris Coleman, one of two Sunderland managerial casualties