With the League One season coming to a close next weekend it seems certain that Sunderland have missed out on automatic promotion and will have to settle for the playoffs, barring something miraculous.
The Black Cats are sitting on 85 points with two games to play, Barsnley and Luton are both on 91 with a significantly better goal difference, meaning that automatic promotion is all but mathematically impossible for Sunderland.
So, why has the club with the biggest budget and best squad in League One failed to secure a top-two-spot? Jack Ross could still win the playoffs but his remit was to secure automatic promotion and he has failed to do that.
Looking at the Sunderland squad, players such as Bryan Oviedo, Lee Cattermole, Aiden McGeady and Grant Leadbitter have Premier League experience so this league should have been too easy for them but it has not turned out that way.
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Sunderland also have the biggest budget in League One and spent a combined total of £3.6 million on strikers including a league record for Will Grigg but both he and Charlie Wyke have struggled to hit the net consistently, only scoring four each.
To put that in perspective, Cattermole and Luke O’Nein have more than them, Sunderland have struggled for goals from their forwards and that has become worse since the club sold Josh Maja, who is still their top scorer despite leaving in January.
Despite losing Maja Ross has not helped himself by being cautious after taking the lead in games.
They have scored first in 26 of their 44 matches but have only managed to win 22 this season which for a team wanting automatic promotion is not good enough. They have also drawn a spectacular number of games this season with 19 including 15 1-1’s.
If they had turned just three of these into wins then they would have comfortably won automatic promotion considering they have only lost three all season.
Ross has come under criticism for the lack of killer instinct and getting his team to score a second, favouring caution has not helped and has led to so many draws.
Ross’ squad even with the sale of Maja was easily good enough to achieve a top-two-spot and it seems the manager’s caution is what has cost them.
The number of draws for a team chasing promotion is unacceptable really and Sunderland will now have to fight through the playoffs, and if they don’t win that then Ross’ first season as Black Cats manager has to be classed as a failure.