When Sunderland secured a 1-0 victory over Tranmere Rovers in the EFL Trophy final last month, they looked as if they were about to cruise towards a top-two finish in League One.
Thriving under the guidance of manager Lee Johnson, the Black Cats' superb run of form in the third-tier allowed them to move to within touching distance of Peterborough United and Hull City.
However, since defeating Oxford United at the Stadium of Light at the start of April, Sunderland have crumbled under the weight of expectations as their automatic promotion push was derailed by a run of six games without a win.
With the Black Cats now seeking solace in the form of the play-offs, they simply have to pick up their performance levels in the closing weeks of the regular season if they are to gain some momentum heading into this knock-out competition.
However, ahead of his side's run-in, Johnson has been dealt a major setback as he has confirmed that Dion Sanderson has been ruled out of the remainder of the campaign due to a back injury.
Since joining Sunderland on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers last year, the defender established himself as a key player for the club by making 28 appearances in all competitions.
Speaking to the club's official website about Sanderson's issue, the Sunderland boss said: "Dion will be out for six weeks.
"He's a good personality and a great kid first and foremost, but the bit that impressed me was how he stepped up in the leadership and communications skills area, which shows he has a bright future.
"It's a big blow, but I don't think about those types of things in that way.
"I look at it as a challenge - otherwise its woe is me - and it's not about me, it's about the team and giving someone an opportunity or adjusting it."
GIVEMESPORT's Joshua Cole says...
This is unquestionably bad news for Sunderland who would have been hoping to call upon Sanderson's services for their play-off run.
Before picking up his injury earlier this month, the defender managed to average an impressive WhoScored rating of 6.72 as he formed a fruitful partnership in the heart of the Black Cats' defence alongside Luke O'Nien.
With Sanderson now being forced to watch on from the sidelines, Johnson will be hoping that the likes of O'Nien and Bailey Wright are capable of stepping up to the mark at what is a critical stage of the season for the Black Cats.
Whilst a continuation of their current form will almost certainly result in another play-off failure, a renaissance could allow them to secure a return to the second-tier via a trip to Wembley Stadium.News Now - Sport News