Q: There’s a very slim chance Sunderland can go up automatically still but the play-offs look almost ominous. With that in mind would you leave out the players carrying injuries with one eye on the semi-finals, or would you stick with a strong as possible team for the final two matches?

Neil Green says…

If we batter Fleetwood by 5 or 6 (which would be a first for us this season) and Portsmouth drop any points against Peterborough (which isn’t too unlikely) then automatic promotion looks a lot more possible. All we’d need is to beat Southend while Barnsley lose at Bristol Rovers. Still far from likely but definitely possible.

With that in mind Ross could, if he wanted, go all out crazy attacking at Fleetwood. We’ve got nothing to lose at this point and we need the goal difference. Go 4-4-2 from the start with Grigg and Wyke supported by McGeady and Maguire on the wings. Maybe chuck Sterling and Kimpioka on at the end. It’d be fun if nothing else.

The other factor is that finishing 3rd gives us a potentially easier run through the playoffs. If we finish 4th we have to get past an on-form Charlton and then Portsmouth or Barnsley. I’d certainly much rather have to beat Doncaster or Peterborough over two legs than Charlton. If we rest a large amount of the usual starting XI we’re almost definitely looking at 4th.

I’d personally go for the moon shot, berserk attacking approach and it’s probably a good thing I’m not in charge. I think Ross will most likely pick his strongest team and usual 4-2-3-1 formation with an eye on finishing 3rd and getting some momentum going into the playoffs.


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James Smith says…

Unfortunately I think I lack the optimism in my heart for any hope of automatic promotion now. No amount of praying to the football gods, glugging down snake oil or performing blood rituals in my garden will change the fact that the play offs, like Omar Little, are coming. And that’s fine. I’ve accepted it and now I’m mentally preparing myself for it, and I think the team selection should reflect this.

I’ve have absolute confidence in our ability to beat any team over two legs and so am not really fussed about whether we finish 3rd of 4th. The two remaining games now are just preparation for the real task, a chance to see who is ready to step up and play a part in the defining moment of our season.

Grigg to me has never looked fully fit and some time out in these fairly inconsequential games would be a good thing. The same with Maguire. He’s coming back from a nasty injury and so I’m fine with him sitting out for a couple of weeks, as he is definitely a player for the playoffs. When the big games come, he is one who I think will step up when it matters.

Now McGeady is a tough one because he’s supposedly playing with a broken foot, and I can absolutely see Barton going out of his way to make sure our star player doesn’t finish the game in one piece.

Maybe I’m being too cautious, not giving our players enough credit and throwing in the towel too soon. It’s football and you never know what’s going to happen. At the end of the day it’s a squad game and without these three players we still have enough to see off Fleetwood and Southend.

On the other hand if we go with Neil’s approach, thrash Fleetwood 6-0 and have Barton blubbering in broken French, wiping his tears away with betting slips then I’ll be happy with that too.


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Mark Carrick says…

A lot of fans are calling for wholesale changes to keep players fresh for the Play-Offs and allowing key players like Aiden McGeady to rest up ahead of the crucial mini-competition. In turn this will allow returning players, such as Chris Maguire, to build some much-needed match-fitness.

However, a look at the table cautions against huge change. As unlikely as it is, if Bristol Rovers were to beat Barnsley or Oxford to win at Luton on Saturday, Sunderland could take advantage if they were to end this evening three points better off. 88 points and a win at Southend would still not be enough to trouble the top two without a huge swing in goal difference. Likely, we’d have to win both games 5-0, and then there’s the small matter of Portsmouth being two points ahead of us and better placed to grab automatic promotion.

The other consideration is where Sunderland would like to be placed for the Play-Off draw. If Portsmouth were to slip up and fail to beat Peterborough, we would climb above them into third. A final win against Southend would mean Portsmouth would have to score a few more than us to knock us from third place and a two-legged semi-final against Doncaster. Peterborough are the only rival now who could overtake the Yorkshire side, meaning their game at Fratton Park is by no-means a certain outcome.

Playing Doncaster, for arguments sake, would arguably be a better option than Charlton over two games. Therefore Jack Ross needs to maintain a side that can secure six points this week and see where that takes us.

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