Could it be a third time luck for the Black Cats? Lee Johnson’s fight against Sunderland grows

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Could it be a third time luck for the Black Cats? Lee Johnson’s battle against Sunderland intensifies with the win at Bristol Rovers after two seasons of heartbreak in League One

  • Sunderland beat Bristol Rovers 1-0 on Saturday to boost their hopes for promotion
  • Aiden O’Brien scored the winning goal in the first half after poor defending
  • The Black Cats are two points behind League One’s automatic promotion slots
  • There is a strong belief that Lee Johnson can lead his way out of the third level this term

The clocks may have moved forward, but this time of year is usually when Sunderland slips backwards.

Do their best to return to the championship immediately two years ago. At one point in early April, they were in second automatic spot with a game in hand, burning their promotional dreams in a scorching one-out-of-six streak.

They were still trying to get the horror of the subsequent 94th-minute play-off final defeat to Charlton out of their minds when Covid-19 forced the suspension of League One in March last year.

Aiden O'Brien's goal in the first half was enough for Sunderland to beat Bristol Rovers on Saturday

Aiden O’Brien’s goal in the first half was enough for Sunderland to beat Bristol Rovers on Saturday

Lee Johnson (right) is believed to be able to lead Sunderland out of League One this season

Lee Johnson (right) is believed to be able to lead Sunderland out of League One this season

Lee Johnson (right) is believed to be able to lead Sunderland out of League One this season

A four-game run with no win just before that shutdown eventually blew their hopes for a playoff place on the points-per-game formula, moving them into a third season of third-tier purgatory.

This time, however, things may be different. Sunderland fans aren’t going to want to win their hopes and ruin it, but there is a fighting quality on Lee Johnson’s side that should take them home.

You feel that Saturday’s win against Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers – a result that took Sunderland three points off the top with matches in hand at Hull and Peterborough above them – was a match they would have drawn or lost in previous years. .

O'Brien (second right) turned Aiden McGeady's corner into what was the winning goal

O'Brien (second right) turned Aiden McGeady's corner into what was the winning goal

O’Brien (second right) turned Aiden McGeady’s corner into what was the winning goal

It was their 12th unbeaten game in all competitions, including a first Wembley win in 48 years in the Papa John’s Trophy final earlier this month and an eighth win in 10 league games.

Johnson has won 16 of the 27 games since replacing Phil Parkinson as manager in early December and with the recent takeover of the club by 24-year-old billionaire heir Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, things are gaining momentum.

Aiden O’Brien took advantage of some static Rovers defenders to turn into Aiden McGeady’s first half corner and Sunderland rarely had any problems after that.

It was Irish international McGeady’s twelfth assist of the season and only Tottenham’s Harry Kane (13) has more in the top four.

Sunderland winger McGeady (right) registered his 12th assist of the season on Saturday

Sunderland winger McGeady (right) registered his 12th assist of the season on Saturday

Sunderland winger McGeady (right) registered his 12th assist of the season on Saturday

“It was definitely off my shin,” admitted O’Brien. ‘Terrible, but we’ll take them. We are a force to be taken seriously because we all have it. We’ve got the fight, we’ve got the quality and why not, we can do it this year.

‘We play football with a smile on our face, because when we do that, we are brilliant. We have games at Hull and Peterborough, so with 10 games to play, who has the fire in the stomach to bring it home? ‘

Eight of those games will come for the line in an April sprint, including trips to the top two teams that will determine Sunderland’s fate. But they have all the momentum.

Joey Barton's Bristol Rovers (left) are in second place in the third row two safety points

Joey Barton's Bristol Rovers (left) are in second place in the third row two safety points

Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers (left) are in second place in the third row two safety points

The same cannot be said of Rovers, who are in second place, but only two points from a safety point of view.

Barton has taken a holistic approach to training, becoming a teacher last week to educate his players in male psychology and great defenders of football history, from Franco Baresi to Sergio Ramos.

That was not apparent from the soft goal they got, but Barton remains optimistic. “We didn’t drift,” he said. “We have games that can be won on the game list, but at the moment we are not doing well because we lost four on the spin. I think it is the first time that I have experienced that in my managerial career. ‘

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