A The sun setting over Sincil Bank on Wednesday in Sunderland seemed to disappear simultaneously with the evening light, fleeing the First Division. Lee Johnson's side was down 2-0 after the first leg of the playoff semifinal against Lincoln, considering the prospect of a fourth consecutive season in the third tier.
That fate can still be avoided, but as Johnson admits, the margin of error is scanty ahead of 10,000 fans in Saturday's second game. “We're still in this business,” said the former Bristol City manager. "But we have to turn that around on one of the biggest days in our club's recent history."
Given Michael Appleton's push for Lincoln's League One's best away record, the Stadium of the Light could be a staple arena if, however, even with a significantly reduced capacity. “The fans will be our extra man,” said Johnson, who should have hoped West Brom's managerial approaches would distract Appleton. “Everyone should make sure the stadium is an absolute winner. We have to score first and continue scoring. ”
Sunderland's manager, who owns the club, quickly mapped out the roadmap
35 – The Republic of Ireland one-year-old winger may be high-maintenance, but in his day McGeady is the outstanding two-legged talent that has carried him to Celtic, Spartak Moscow and Everton.
Johnson rescued a frozen player from Sunderland's deep freeze during Phil Parkinson's tenure as manager and was able to do good. return. “I brought the Geads back from the dead and showed strong leadership on and off the field,” he said. “He is the best player. The best players come with demands and are not always easy to manage, but I appreciate the intensity he wants. He is tough. I'm sure he'll take the step we need. ”
McGeady is disappointed for Lincoln, but Johnson's case is that McGeady's 14 Sunderland players are out of contract this summer. To add further complexity, a clause in the winger's contract would trigger a one-year extension of 35 games this season. Marked fixture on Wednesday No 29.
Given that McGeady is to some extent the club's top-earning player, Louis-Dreyfus will remain in which division the team will stay next season, but an apparent standoff was resolved when McGeady signed a waiver deal Friday. "It's not fair to reveal the contract details but it does show that Aiden is one of the nicest people," Johnson said. “All good for Saturday; Aiden proved his class. ”
Still, the lack of ties linking players' mid-terms to Wearside likely represents a reason behind the slump that has resulted in Sunderland winning only two of the last competitions in League One fixtures after Papa John's Trophy was abolished on March 13.
With the team's once-bright hopes of automatic promotion dashed, Johnson became an amateur psychologist who consistently emphasized the positives. “There was a lot of propaganda,” he said. “It's not exactly brainwashing, but it's as close as it gets. We want each individual to bring out the best version of themselves. ”
It would help if Charlie Wyke could get his old box office form back. Sunderland's striker has scored 30 goals 53 that term has come up, but only four since Papa John's victory over Tranmere. Perhaps significantly, he is coveted by Championship Middlesbrough, whose manager Neil Warnock is scheduled to be at the Stadium of the Light.
By an uncanny coincidence, Wyke scored two goals, which Johnson led to 4. -0 win over Lincoln in his first responsible game in December. "We've scored four points against them before," said Sunderland's manager. "There's no doubt we can do this again – but we have to be more alert in the back and more clinical in the top."
Despite Johnson's confidence in the Football League's largest crowd, 14 months can put psychological pressure on Appleton's players, encouraging them to defend too deep, fearing getting caught on the bench. “This is the first time we've been understaffed this season, and that can help,” the 39-year-old said. “But we have to be as aggressive as possible without losing control.”
He still can't quite believe that five years ago Sunderland was in the Premier League and Lincoln in the National League. yet he knows exactly what is at stake. “The biggest game of my career,” Johnson said. “Everything clung to me; I'm simultaneously the manager, the attacker, the controller, the fan who loves the young and wants to turn it around and create a great story for everyone. ”