Sunderland’s season has been quite the adventure so far.
From sacking Phil Parkinson and hiring Lee Johnson, to finding new owners and winning the Papa John’s Trophy, drama has never been far away from the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland’s chances of securing promotion to the Championship look as good as they have done at any point in the last few years.
Johnson has engineered seven wins from their last nine in League One and after Peterborough lost to Blackpool in midweek, the Mackems will have an opportunity to go second on Saturday.
Sunderland will have to hope that Posh drops points again and that they consequently beat 21st placed Bristol Rovers.
In order to elevate their chances of doing so, they must begin to move on from Grant Leadbitter. The midfield has been a loyal servant to the Mackems, but since returning from a dislocated shoulder, he has been holding them back.
Leadbitter’s display at Wembley in the Papa John’s Trophy final was far from disastrous but with Tranmere enjoying the better spells in the first half, he was made to look rather slow by their constant counter-attacks.
Unfortunately, the 35-year-old looked off the pace in the 1-1 draw with Lincoln as well. He was hooked off with around 20 minutes remaining having lost 67% of his duels and being dribbled past on two occasions.
That has been a familiar tale for Leadbitter in the last few weeks.
Carl Winchester and Josh Scowen showed the value of being more athletic in Sunderland’s 2-0 win over Portsmouth a few weeks ago.
With Leadbitter missing, the midfield duo stepped up the plate admirably. During that clash, the pairing won a combined 12 defensive duels but it was Winchester who really stood out, completing 100% of his take-ons and proving successful with 82% of his passes.
On top of that, no one won more than his four ground duels throughout the entire match.
With that in mind, Johnson could do far worse than pairing the two together once again against Bristol Rovers on Saturday.
Failing that, he could finally bring Luke O’Nien into the middle of the park. He has been featuring at centre-back over the last few months but looked strangely out of sorts in that position against Lincoln. He made a mistake in the first half and then could have done better for the equaliser.
With Leadbitter faltering, perhaps he could finally move forward? Only time will tell.