CARL ROBINSON has become a play-off expert in recent years and wants to ensure Sunderland avoid the end of season shoot-out this time around by securing Championship glory.

The Black Cats can take a huge step towards doing just that tonight when they travel to second-placed Wigan aiming to extend their five point lead at the top.

And it is little wonder that Robinson wants to clinch a top two place bearing in mind the poor record he has built up over the past few years.

Since breaking onto the scene ten years ago at Wolves, the 28-year-old has played in four play-off battles and lost them all.

Three of those were with the Molineux club when he tasted semi-final defeats in 1996 (v Bolton), 1997 (v Palace) and in 2002 (v Norwich).

Robinson was also part of the Sunderland squad that suffered more devastation in the two-legged semi-final with Crystal Palace last season - condemning Mick McCarthy's men to another year outside the Premiership.

Now Sunderland are the front-runners for lifting the Championship trophy for the first time since 1999 - with Robinson desperate to make sure that is the case.

But the midfielder knows a Premiership place is far from being secured and he points to an experience he had during his days at Wolves as a warning to everyone on Wearside to keep their feet on the ground.

"I missed out in the play-offs with Wolves three times. The last time we were 11 points clear with ten games remaining and we were pipped by West Brom in the last game," said Robinson.

"That's why I'm wary of saying that we're in a great position but the hard work starts here. Teams can falter, you can drop points. A month ago we were six points behind Ipswich and everyone wrote us off. But we knew that they could have a wobble and we could make it up and that's what happened.

"Maybe at Wolves there wasn't the same belief that we have here, maybe there wasn't the belief there should have been.

"When we were ten points clear there were players who thought we had done it already, who thought they only had to turn up to win a game. You learn your lessons in football and that was a harsh one. I have learnt from it."

But where Robinson suffered the heartache with Wolves in 2002, when they won just three of their last ten games, he also enjoyed title success the following year with Portsmouth. And the Welsh international draws parallels with Sunderland's push for a top-flight place, highlighting the determination within both squads to make sure the job is done.

"When I joined Pompey two seasons ago, I was one of 15 or so free transfers who had come in and we had a mix of youth and experience," said Robinson.

"The way Mick has done it this year is to go for talented youngsters, potentially very good youngsters, and they have proved themselves on this stage and have handled it very comfortably indeed. They have even proved that they can go higher than this level.

"There are differences in between those two squads but one thing is the same: the belief.

"The belief that we can win promotion is exactly the same. If you have that belief, you are halfway there."

Third-placed Ipswich have the chance to force their way back into the top two again tonight when they play relegation candidates Rotherham at Portman Road.

But Robinson insists Sunderland must concentrate solely on the clash at the JJB Stadium where 8,000 Wearsiders will have made the trip to Wigan.

"This is a must-win game for both teams.

"For me, we have to win to put as much daylight between ourselves and them as possible, they want to win to claw it back. We want to win," he said.

"People are saying it's a must-win game for Wigan and perhaps they need to beat us more than we need to beat them but we want to put more distance between us."

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