Former Sunderland stalwart Michael Gray has questioned whether Sunderland have enough within their squad to go on and earn promotion to the Championship in the League One play-offs.
The Black Cats endured a difficult run-in that saw them drop out of contention for automatic promotion, after having been on an excellent run of form in the weeks prior under Lee Johnson. However, Sunderland will get the chance to have another go at promotion via the play-offs starting with their semi-final against Lincoln City.
Sunderland have already suffered the frustration of missing out on promotion via the play-offs in the 2018/19 campaign, where they were beaten in the final by Charlton Athletic. They have been well fancied for promotion in all of their three League One campaigns now, but so far have yet to get themselves over the line, having missed out on even the top-six last season.
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Speaking to Sky Sports, Gray suggested that Sunderland seem to have players within their squad like Aiden McGeady, Charlie Wyke, Lynden Gooch, Max Power and Grant Leadbitter that should give them enough. However, he questioned whether they will be able to do what they have not done before and get over the line.
He said: “You need heart and desire in the play-offs. “But you also need a goalscorer and we’ve got that in Charlie Wyke, and we have one of the most talented players in the league in Aiden McGeady.
“Lynden Gooch is a big-game player. Max Power and Grant Leadbitter have got that much-needed experience as well.
“But, at the end of the day, these players have been trying to get out of this division for three years now, and they’ve not managed to succeed.”
It is hard to disagree with Gray’s assessment here, Sunderland on paper have one of the most outstanding squads in League One with some of the best players in the division all playing for them. However, that has been the case in the previous two campaigns as well and that has not proved to be enough for them in the past, so again there will be doubts this time around.
Sunderland should have enough quality to get past Lincoln City in the semi-finals, and then take on whoever goes through the tie between Oxford United and Blackpool. However, the Black Cats ended the season in poor form and that could make a huge difference with the other sides in the play-offs likely to be in a more confident mood heading into them.
The Black Cats also have the most amount of pressure on their shoulders than any of the other sides in the play-off mix. They are a club that have to get promoted out of the third tier as quickly as possible, while the likes of Blackpool, Lincoln and Oxford would be comfortable having another term in League One if they do not go up. That could make a massive difference.