Stephen Elliott has warned his former club Sunderland that the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town are likely to push them hard in the race for promotion.
The Black Cats were knocked out of the top two over the weekend but do have games in hand over both league leaders Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers.
Lee Johnson’s side saw their unbeaten start to the season ended by Portsmouth just before the international break in a 4-0 loss at Fratton Park but will have their chance to get back to winning ways against Gillingham this weekend.
The next few weeks sees them take on Crewe, Charlton, and QPR (in the Carabao Cup) before facing two promotion rivals – Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday – within a few days of each other.
In his column for the Sunderland Echo, Elliott has called on the Sunderland squad to find form in this pivotal period and warned them about the other dangerous sides in the division.
He said: “The table is starting to take shape now and the so-called better teams, who were favourites before the season started, are beginning to make their mark with recent performances.
“Obviously, Sunderland are still right up there and with a couple of spare games in hand on the teams above them they will be pleased with how things look from a league table perspective.
“However, as good as this season’s start has been it shows that it’s gonna take a big push to get promoted and nothing is going to be handed to anyone in this division this season.
“Wigan, Wycombe, Plymouth and Rotherham have all got strong squads and are moving up the table imminently.
“Sheffield Wednesday won’t go away either you would suspect and you can’t discount Ipswich Town gathering some form under Paul Cook after their surprisingly indifferent start.”
He added: “I mentioned that I believe the team can go unbeaten all season and I stand by that. However, these next few weeks could have a big say in whether this team will finally get promoted.”
Before Sunderland get their League One schedule back underway, they take on Manchester United U23s in the EFL Trophy on Wednesday.
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Elliott makes some important points here and you’d hope his former club aren’t taking anything for granted given the quality of teams tussling near the top of the third tier this season.
It always looked like it was going to be a congested season in and around the top six and so it has proved, with the likes of Bolton, MK Dons, and Plymouth exceeding expectations at the moment.
As long as it is used properly by Johnson, the 4-0 defeat to Pompey ahead of the international break could prove positive for the Black Cats in that it should have given them fresh motivation and reminded them just how competitive the division is.
A promotion push is a long, hard slog but the next few weeks could be vital.