Sunderland’s 1-1 draw against Burton in the Stadium of Light on Tuesday represents what could all too easily be the "thin end of the wedge", or the start of a slide down a slippery slope. Defeat against Coventry on Saturday further underlines this.
Yes, they still have one game in hand. However with Barnsley leapfrogging them and Portsmouth level on points, throwing away five points against teams they should be beaten is not good news.
Black Cats’ manager, Jack Ross, initially set his team a target of taking an average of two points from each match. Now that is a thing of the past. For their last few games, only straight wins will seal their place in the automatic promotion stakes. Anything less could see them having to battle it out in the playoffs.
One of the problems that Sunderland face is that when you compare the teams they have to play against in their run-in, they have a tougher task than any of their rivals for promotion places. They have to play 6th placed Doncaster, 7th placed Peterborough, and 4th placed Portsmouth.
One good thing though, is that most of the games are home matches at the Stadium of Light. The only away game in this selection is the one against Peterborough. But even the Black Cats’ last game could be a tough one. It’s away to Southend who could be fighting to stay up.
The other problem that Jack Ross has to contend with is injuries. When your team is fighting for promotion, you need your best players fit and raring to go. Unfortunately, Dylan McGeouch was taken off in the game against Burton, and it is uncertain as to the extent of the injury which appears to be muscular.
McGeouch joins a lengthening injury list but Ross is hoping to have Cattermole, Maguire and McGeady, who appeared off the bench against Coventry, returning and available for Friday's game against Doncaster.
It would be a dream come true for fans if they could do the same this season and get back into the Championship. The current squad have fought hard to earn their place in the promotion battle, but if Sunderland do go up, they will need some serious reinforcements.
McGeouch has struggled with injuries for so long, but if he can keep fit, he is one of the few players who could flourish in the Championship where he would have a better chance to show his full potential.
But let's not start counting chickens before the eggshells show signs of cracking. There is little doubt that the Black Cats will be there in the promotion battle, but the difference between automatic or playoff hopes is massive.
The playoffs are usually something of a lottery as can be seen from the statistics. If you follow the stats, then finishing in 5th is to be avoided. Only three fifth-placed teams have succeeded in gaining promotion.
Finishing in second place in the league would avoid all of that uncertainty, but in order to do so, the Black Cats need to focus on winning all of their remaining matches. Doing so will mean they keep matters under their own control. Anything less and their fate is no longer in their own hands - they would be relying on others tripping up around them.