Former Sunderland defender Michael Gray has fired a warning to the Black Cats’ squad that they are all fighting for their potential long-term futures in the League One play-offs.
The Black Cats head into their play-off semi-final against Lincoln City knowing they need to re-find their best form after suffering a real dip in the final weeks of the campaign.
That loss of form came at a crucial period and saw Lee Johnson’s side drop away from the automatic promotion places and instead have to settle for one of the play-off positions.
This will be the third attempt at promotion for many of the players within Sunderland’s current squad, while there are others who were not there in 2018/19, but who last term could not even guide them into the top-six. The pressure is going to be on them to make sure that they get over the line this time and take the club back into the Championship.
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Speaking to Sky Sports, Gray insisted that every single Sunderland player, barring maybe Luke O’Nien, is fighting for their respective futures at the Stadium of Light. While he also suggested that if they do not go up this time around it will be even tougher next term.
He said: “Every single player at that club at this present time is fighting for their future.
“The only exception is Luke O’Nien, he is the only player in that current squad, I believe, that deserves to be part of Sunderland going forward.
“Why aren’t Sunderland running away with League One? We’re a massive club. If we don’t go up this time around, it’ll be a lot more difficult next season with the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe and Rotherham coming down – it gets harder the longer you’re down there.”
Gray’s comments here will likely be echoed by the majority of Sunderland’s supporters. They will also be feeling that it is time that the players within their current squad delivered upon getting the Black Cats back into the Championship which is where they should be playing. There have been many who have had a few chances now to do the job and they have to do it this time.
For the players involved in that 2018/19 play-off final against Charlton, they will know how it feels to miss out on promotion in that way. That has to give them the motivation to ensure that this time it is them who are celebrating come the end of the play-offs. However, if they can not deliver that then they will have cast their long-term futures into doubt.
Johnson has yet to have a full transfer window as manager and this forthcoming summer he will be able to be ruthless with the squad if they have failed to get them promoted. Gray is right that if they do not go up now then changes will have to be made because there are going to be a lot of very tough opponents in the division next term.