Sunderland desperately wants to reverse Lincoln playoff deficit

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Sunderland desperately wants to reverse Lincoln playoff deficit


As the sun set on Sincil Bank on Wednesday Sunderland’s hopes of escaping Ligue 1 appeared to be fading along with the evening light. Lee Johnson’s side had lost 2-0 after the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Lincoln and were considering the unpleasant prospect of spending a fourth consecutive season in third place.

This fate can still be avoided, but, as Johnson acknowledges, there is little room for error in front of 10,000 fans in Saturday’s second leg. “We’re still in there,” the former Bristol City manager said. “But we have to turn the tide on one of the greatest days in recent club history. “

Considering that Michael Appleton’s Lincoln has the best record outside of League One, that seems pretty significant, but even with significantly reduced capacity, the Stadium of Light can be an elemental arena. “The fans are going to have to be our extra man,” said Johnson, who is to be hopeful that Appleton is distracted by West Brom’s leadership overtures. “Everyone has to make sure that the stadium is an absolute cauldron. We have to score first and keep scoring. “

The Sunderland manager does not want to be responsible for postponing the accelerated roadmap to the Premier League sketched out by the club owner, the 24-year-old trust fund billionaire Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, but depends largely on the performance of Aiden McGeady.

The 35-year-old Republic of Ireland winger may be asking for a lot of maintenance but in his time McGeady retains some of the exceptional two-footed talent that transported him to Celtic, Spartak Moscow and Everton.

Johnson saved a player frozen during Phil Parkinson’s management tenure from Sunderland’s deep freeze and could do with the favor returning. “I brought Geads back from the dead and he showed strong leadership on and off the pitch,” he said. “He’s a top player. The best players have demands and he is not always easy to manage but I appreciate the intensity he wants. He is hard. I have no doubts that it will intensify the task we need.

McGeady disappointed Lincoln but Johnson’s cause was arguably hampered by McGeady’s status as one of Sunderland’s 14 players without a contract this summer. As an added complication, a clause in the winger’s contract stated that starting a 30th game this season would trigger a one-year extension. Wednesday marked Game No.29.

Given that McGeady is by far the club’s highest-paid player, Louis-Dreyfus was unwilling to trigger this arrangement without knowing which division the team will reside in next season, but an apparent stalemate was resolved by McGeady apparently signing a waiver agreement on Friday. “It’s not fair to reveal contract details, but it shows Aiden is a first-rate human being,” Johnson said. “Everything is going well for Saturday; Aiden has proven his class.

Even so, the lack of ties between the players’ medium-term future at Wearside is arguably one of the reasons for the collapse which has seen Sunderland win just two of their last 13 Ligue 1 games after winning the Papa. John’s Trophy in March.

Lee Johnson shows his frustration in the first game. Photography: Matt Bunn / BPI / Rex / Shutterstock

With the team’s once-bright automatic promotion hopes dashed, Johnson became an amateur psychologist, constantly emphasizing the positives. “There was a lot of propaganda,” he said. “Not quite brainwashing, but as close as it gets. We want each individual to bring out the best version of themselves. “

It would help if Charlie Wyke could regain his old form of the penalty area. The Sunderland center-forward has scored 30 goals in 53 appearances this season, but only four since Papa John’s triumph over Tranmere. Perhaps significantly, he is coveted by Championship Middlesbrough, whose manager, Neil Warnock, is expected to be at the Stadium of Light.

Coincidentally, Wyke scored twice as Johnson presided over a 4-0 victory at Lincoln in his first game at the helm in December. “We’ve scored four before,” said the Sunderland coach. “There’s no question we can do it again, but we need to be more vigilant at the back and more clinical at the top.”

Although Johnson trusts the biggest crowd in the Football League in 14 months, he can put psychological pressure on Appleton’s players, causing them to defend themselves too deeply, he fears being caught at the counter. “For the first time this season, we are underdogs and that could help,” said the 39-year-old. “But we have to be as aggressive as possible without losing control.”

He still can’t believe that five years ago Sunderland was in the Premier League and Lincoln in the National League but knows precisely what’s at stake. “It’s the biggest game of my career,” said Johnson. “Everything is enveloped in me; I’m both the manager, the abuser, the controller, the guy who loves guys and the fan who wants to turn things around and create a great story for everyone.

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