Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Cats in a Real Flap as Play-Offs Loom; MATCH ANALYSIS: Southend United 2 Sunderland 1

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Cats in a Real Flap as Play-Offs Loom; MATCH ANALYSIS: Southend United 2 Sunderland 1

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES HUNTER Sunderland writer james.hunter@reachplc.com @JHUNTERCHRON

SUNDERLAND have not so much stumbled over the finishing line but tripped over it and landed flat on their face.

On Tuesday, with a play-off place already assured, the Wearsiders were still fighting for automatic promotion and were even - technically at least - in the title race.

However, back-to-back defeats for the first time this season - at Fleetwood Town in midweek and now at relegation candidates Southend United - meant the Black Cats trailed in fifth.

One win in their last seven games and three defeats in their last six - more than in the previous 40 league games - is hardly the kind of form which suggests they are a team to be feared in the play-offs.

The one positive to take is they will not face Charlton Athletic in the semi-final because Lee Bowyer's Addicks are the side with momentum going into the play-offs.

Instead, the Wearsiders will do battle with familiar foes Portsmouth - another side who have blown up in the final week.

Pompey had automatic promotion in their own hands when they visited Wearside last weekend but a draw at the Stadium of Light followed by a defeat and another draw saw them slip to fourth.

Sunderland have faced Pompey three times already this season - losing and drawing in the league and losing on penalties in the EFL Trophy final at Wembley - and must hope their luck changes in the two-legged semi-final, the first game of which will be played on Wearside on Saturday evening.

For that to happen, the Black Cats will first have to return to work after seemingly treating their seaside trip to Southend as an early summer holiday.

How else to explain the way they played in this abysmal, half-hearted, goingthrough-the-motions, end-of-season display? Yes, automatic promotion was out of reach and Sunderland knew they were already guaranteed a play-off place.

Yes, the stakes were much higher for Southend, who knew they had to win to be certain of avoiding relegation - but all that is no excuse. …

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