It is going to take a very special set of circumstances for Sunderland to lose at the moment.
Lee Johnson’s men have been completely transformed in recent months and have turned themselves into complete promotion candidates.
They have won seven of their last eight matches and now they are just five points behind league leaders Hull. Add that Sunderland have two games in hand and everything is looking rather rosy for the Mackems.
They will have a timely distraction this Sunday when they face Tranmere in the Papa John’s Trophy final but they will do so in the ascendency.
Tuesday’s match against Portsmouth was billed as a must-win for both sides; it had the potential to be a real sticking point for the Black Cats too. That being said, they came through the test with flying colours.
Johnson’s men beat Pompey 2-0 in what turned out to be one of their most comfortable victories of the season. Against fellow promotion hopefuls, it was all Sunderland supporters could ask for.
Charlie Wyke found himself on the score sheet again while Jordan Jones continued his impressive start to life at the Stadium of Light by netting too.
Though, it was the defensive performance that laid the platform. The Mackems are missing Tom Flanagan, Bailey Wright and Jordan Willis through injury at the moment but that doesn’t seem to matter.
With Dion Sanderson and Luke O’Nien pairing each other, they have kept four clean sheets in their last five matches. Evidently, they relish playing together.
Sanderson has been getting the brunt of the praise and with the club trying to lure him to the north-east on a permanent basis, you can see why. However, O’Nien deserves an equal piece of the acclaim going Sunderland’s way.
For a makeshift centre-half, he has been nothing short of excellent. A matter of weeks ago, Johnson claimed he’d been “outstanding” in defence before revealing: “I think he could be the best utility player I’ve ever seen.”
Indeed, it’s hard to look past that fact. The 26-year-old has now played at right-back, in midfield and at centre-back this season.
His performance against Portsmouth was the tip of the iceberg. In winning nine aerial duels, he was only second to Wyke in that department. Alongside the two ground duels that O’Nien won, he made himself look like a seasoned veteran at the back.
Considering he’s only played in that area of the field on ten occasions, it’s been quite the performance from Sunderland’s combative midfielder.
To outline how consistent he’s been, O’Nien has won as many as 31 aerial duels over the last six games. That amounts to a grand tally of 5.3 per match; a number seldom replicated by any other player in the side.
The former Wycombe man has been a flawless colossus in recent weeks. Johnson would be foolish to remove him from the backline.