The lowdown on Blackpool's promotion rivals Sunderland ahead of this weekend's pivotal encounter
With Blackpool currently sat in a play-off spot, it goes without saying that every game between now and the end of the season is an important one.
But with the fifth-placed Seasiders taking on third-placed Sunderland this weekend, Saturday's game takes on extra significance.
Neil Critchley's side will be looking to build on their 15-game unbeaten run against a Sunderland side who have slipped away from the automatic promotion spots in recent weeks.
Lee Johnson’s side looked odds on to finish in the top two following a run of eight wins in 11 games left them just two points off Peterborough United with a game in hand.
But, following successive defeats to Charlton Athletic and Wigan Athletic respectively, the Black Cats now sit five points off the top two with six games remaining, having also played their game in hand.
The Gazette caught up with Mark Donnelly, who covers the Black Cats for our sister paper the Sunderland Echo, to get a lowdown on Saturday's opponents.
What impact has Lee Johnson had since arriving in December?
On the whole, the impact has been a positive one.
While the last couple of results and performances have been disappointing, the side are sitting in a far better position than they were when Johnson arrived.
He's far more tactically flexible than his predecessor Phil Parkinson which has helped in some of the tighter games, and he's certainly lifted spirits both behind the scenes and in the fanbase.
Sunderland went on a long unbeaten run before last weekend and won at Wembley for the first time since 1973, so hopefully recent results are nothing more than a blip.
It's important to note that it's not just Johnson whose arrival has made an impact, too. Kristjaan Speakman's appointment as sporting director was an overdue one and one which will ensure Sunderland have a real footballing philosophy moving forward.
And the appointments of both Speakman and Johnson were part of new owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' plans to reshape the club. With him at the helm, the future certainly looks brighter.
What's the story behind their back-to-back defeats? They've come at just the wrong time...
Those back-to-back defeats have proven very costly with automatic promotion now out of Sunderland's hands.
For all they registered some good results throughout February, March and early April, they were never prolific scorers. Only once in their last twelve league outings have the side scored more than two goals in a game and there was always a fear that an inability to kill teams off would prove costly somewhere along the line.
Sunderland's fine defence had ensured that wasn't a problem up until the visit of Charlton, when they switched off twice and were punished for it. It was a similar story at Wigan too, where both home goals came from corners.
You can bet there's been plenty of work on defending set pieces at the Academy of Light this week...
How important are Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke? Or is it too simplistic to focus just on those two?
Sunderland's squad is a strong one and the likes of Jordan Jones, Lynden Gooch and Aiden O'Brien can all make an impact in the final third - but it's hard to state just how important Wyke and McGeady are to this side.
On Wigan at Tuesday, where Sunderland had a spell of dominance without creating a great deal, it was a superb cross from McGeady and a fine finish from Wyke that saw them take the lead.
With McGeady in the side, Sunderland are always capable of delivering that one moment of magic that can decide a game. And with Wyke, they have a striker enjoying the best season of his career and who is so often perfectly placed to benefit from McGeady's deliveries.
Obviously there are plenty of players to keep an eye on in the Sunderland side, but if you can stop McGeady and Wyke then there's a fair chance you'll stop Sunderland from scoring. That's easier said than done, though!
What's the mood among the fanbase with six games to go? They must be desperate to avoid the play-offs again?
I think there is an understanding that achieving automatic promotion will be a tough ask for Sunderland now. But while fans are undoubtedly keen to get out of League One as soon as possible, the arrival of Louis-Dreyfus and the promise of a brighter future means the mood is perhaps slightly more upbeat than it could have been.
There's more of a focus on the long-term than the short-term under the new ownership, meaning that it won't be viewed as a major catastrophe if Sunderland spend another season in League One.
But that said, if it is the play-offs for Sunderland, there will be few teams wanting to face the Black Cats given their squad depth and quality throughout.
The Wembley hoodoo has already been ended this season (with the EFL Trophy triumph), so the play-off curse could be next to go.
What do you think the score will be on Saturday?
I think this is the fixture Sunderland fans have least been looking forward to during the run-in given the form Blackpool are in.
But the Black Cats need a result, so I'll go for a narrow 1-0 away win - with that McGeady and Wyke combination delivering the goods again.
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