The Portsmouth trip to Sunderland everyone knew would be pivotal – and has continued to grow in importance

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It was the first game almost every Pompey fan looked for when the League One fixtures were announced in June.

The trip to the Stadium of Light was undoubtedly the most anticipated and for more than one reason.

Nathan Thompson battles Aiden McGeady for the ball during Pompey's victory over Sunderland at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

Nathan Thompson battles Aiden McGeady for the ball during Pompey's victory over Sunderland at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

It’s an away day a fair few members the Fratton faithful earmarked to make a weekend of, spending a few nights hitting the nearby Toon or Wearside. 

Add that to a game at a 49,000-seater stadium, a reminder of what was a regular occurrence in the Premier League days not so long ago. 

But, most crucially, was how important the game against Sunderland could potentially become.

An immediate return to the Championship would be nothing but what Mackems demanded after successive relegations. 

With Pompey having designs on promotion themselves, though, the Black Cats were recognised rivals before a ball was kicked. 

Saturday, April 27 – Kenny Jackett’s side’s final away trip and what originally was the second-last game of the campaign.

If the promotion race was to go down to the wire, the Stadium of Light showdown would prove pivotal. 

That has proved to be the case.

In fact, the encounter has become more and more important as the campaign has worn on. 

The race for the top two remains wide open. Even leaders Luton aren’t nailed on to go up after last night’s 2-2 draw with AFC Wimbledon.

Automatic promotion is in Pompey’s hands. Sitting third on 86 points, they're two points behind second-placed Barnsley with a game in hand, while Jackett’s men have already played the Black Cats twice this term. 

The reverse fixture at Fratton Park in December was finely poised at 0-0 until Glenn Loovens was sent off for the visitors.

Pompey firmly took advantage and clinched a 3-1 success.

The sides were to do battle again last month – on the grandest stage in the country. 

More than 85,000 packed into Wembley, with Pompey triumphing again via a penalty shootout to claim the Checkatrade Trophy.

But this Saturday’s Stadium of Light showdown is most salient of the three meetings. 

Should Pompey pick up a win, they’ll be five points above Jack Ross’ men and go into their game in hand against Peterborough on Tuesday full of confidence. 

However, a draw or defeat would likely mean it’ll be the rollercoaster of the play-offs given how much easier Barnsley’s final two fixtures look.