The Tykes and the Black Cats are both chasing Luton at the top of the table, with the aforementioned pair occupying second and third respectively. This game embodies the spirit of a 6 pointer and both teams will be desperate to gain an advantage on their promotional rivals for the remainder of the end of season run in.
The big question on the lips of Sunderland fans is if Jack Ross can reinvigorate his charges following a lacklustre performance last time out against a combative Wycombe side.
The story so far
Sunderland turned in probably their worst performance of the season against Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday afternoon. Unable to deal with the disruptive and direct approach adopted by Gareth Ainsworth’s side, Sunderland were ineffective and the frustration was evident from the players with a number of minor spats threatening to boil over throughout the game.
Ross would have prepared his side for the incoming onslaught due to Wycombe playing in a similar fashion throughout their season. The first meeting between the sides followed the same script as last weekends, an incredibly stop start affair where Wycombe scored the first goal and Sunderland equalised late on as the Wanderers own tactics began to work against them. That day it was Josh Maja to the rescue with less than ten minutes to go, on Saturday it was Duncan Watmore.
The Road Runner managed to save a point for Sunderland, reacting first to stab a shot into the Wycombe goal deep into added time. It was almost infuriating watching Wycombe execute Ainsworth’s instructions with aplomb (made all the more frustarting by the fact that Gareth Ainsworth is a genuine bloke who knows his stuff and his rotten game plan worked perfectly), their antics drawing reactions from Sunderland players all over the park. Aiden McGeady in particular with a memorable barrage of words towards a Wycombe player who had cheaply bought a free kick, but he was far from the only one.
George Honeyman reacted to Wycombe’s coaching staff attempting to disrupt a Sunderland throw in (yes, their coaches were at it as well as the players) and nearly ruined his trip to Wembley due to a red card and subsequent 3 game ban. But thanks to the EFL coming to its senses, a ban which earlier in the season would have kept him out of all competitive fixtures has now changed and the club captain will be available to lead his side out in the final.
I need to mention the complete incompetence of the referee, Lee Swabey. He struggled to control the game throughout and his inability to properly apply the rules resulted in tensions boiling over as players, coaches and the crowd all became frustrated alike. Never have I witnessed a referee so regularly surrounded by players instructing him on how to uphold the rules of the game.
It was simply amazing the amount of times he stopped the game for ‘injuries’ that did not require a head assessment. This seems to be a common problem in the lower leagues of English football whose games are officiated either by inexperienced, newly qualified referees or the incompetent, confidence deserted failures of the leagues above. Referees need to be coached and educated when they have a poor game and they get key decisions wrong, not the sink or swim world of relegating and promoting officials on the back of a few good or bad performances.
Barnsley have been in amazing form of late, but have also consistently picked up wins regularly throughout the season. Goalless draws against Burton and Portsmouth at the end of February are the only real blemishes on an outstanding league record since the New Year, but I should mention that Oxford and Luton managed to nick a point off the Tykes, just like they did with Sunderland.
Perhaps what is most impressive is that following the loss of top goal scorer Kieffer Moore for the remainder of the season Barnsley have stuck to their winning ways, beating Southend when reduced to 10 men by three goals to nil is impressive. To maintain that form by beating Accrington Stanley 2-0 proves the determination that Daniel Stendel and his squad have to win promotion back to the Championship.