Jack Ross has indicated that now is the time to perform and be ruthless, well aware that games are running out which will make it harder to get the necessary points to overthrow Luton and Barnsley above at the summit of the league.
“It’s the way the season has gone that this is second vs third not top vs second,
“I said it earlier and the three teams at the top would be appearing in most positive stats lists this season.
“For three teams in one league to have such strong records is unusual and it’s what’s kept it so competitive at that end of the table.
“The aim for Barnsley tomorrow will be to try and give themselves a little bit of a cushion, whereas the incentive for us is to make sure that three-way fight continues, while not, of course, ruling out teams below us too.
"You get to this stage of the season and you can’t underestimate how much each win can mean.
“When it starts getting towards that end point you’re one step closer,”
“Psychologically I’ve never felt the players have ever been different. I think they’ve always remained balanced but it’s more about the significance of winning games at this stage - regardless of opposition it’s about winning points that will bring us closer to reaching the target that we want to bring us success.
“And it’s significant because if you don’t get the result, the number of games to catch up on that total becomes less.”
Tykes boss Daniel Stendel was pleased his charges had not been distracted by the fixture with Sunderland by beating Accrington comfortably. He now hopes his side can enjoy tonight’s fixture and further their promotion hopes.
“I told the players that the Sunderland game was important but that they had to concentrate on Accrington first. They kept their focus and when we saw results from other stadiums it made it a good win. We cannot influence other results so you can only say it’s good for us when we win our games.
“The first goal is to get automatic promotion. We have no chance to influence what Luton do but it is exciting.
“We will now enjoy it on Tuesday. It is a big game and we are looking forward to it. I think we can win this game and we will be very happy if we do.”
What could go down?
If the first meeting in November between the pair was anything to go by, then the return fixture should be a tasty one.
Both teams like to get the ball onto the grass and play, Barnsley like to build up attacks faster than Sunderland, while the Black Cats control possession for longer periods. Both have quality players and managers and are arguably the biggest clubs in League 1 this season. Both have gone through ownership changes and relegations in recent memory and both are chasing a promotion which would go some way to healing the hurt caused by years of underperformance and disappointment.
While there are many similarities between the two clubs, the differences are also stark.
Barnsley have managed more wins than Sunderland but have also lost more games, but most importantly Jack Ross’s side came out on top when the two last met. McGeady, Maja, Gooch and fan favourite Luke O’Nien all found themselves on the score sheet that day, as did the injured Kieffer Moore who took advantage of some Sunderland defending errors to pull back two goals.
Barnsley remain a threat despite Moore’s absence with 24 year old Cauley Woodrow bagging five goals in his last six games to bring his season total to 11, Sunderland’s back four will need to keep a close eye on the former Fulham man to ensure he doesn’t add to his goal tally.
Expect the total opposite of the frustrating sham of game against Wycombe with the referee looking to keep the game flowing with Sunderland and Barnsley looking to put a show on and pass the ball. Sunderland are without a few key players themselves due to injury, concussion protocols and suspensions, and whether or not the loss of Honeyman, Flannagan, James or Watmore impacts on Sunderland’s chances. This is of course after having seven bells knocked out of them by Wycombe.
Sunderland do have the advantage of having an absolute Rolls-Royce to call upon in Aiden McGeady who has stood up and performed excellently since getting his season going. The Republic of Ireland international is enjoying his best season ever in front of goal and simply has too much quality for defenders and keepers alike at this level.
Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole (who might miss out due to an ongoing ankle issue) have bags of experience and pedigree from leagues above while Will Grigg has one of the best League 1 records out there. I mention this because I think tonight’s result will come down to who makes less mistakes, who can create chances and who can put them away.
In the players I have just mentioned Sunderland have all the ingredients to get the all-important ‘six’ points to further galvanise our promotion hopes. It will be won and lost in the midfield and I think Sunderland just have the nous and passing to win this battle and give the rest of the team an excellent platform to play from.
3-1 to the Black Cats. Ha-Way the Lads!