WITH Sunderland heading to Peterborough United this afternoon for a game that could have huge repercussions in the race for automatic promotion from League One, Max Power has told the club’s supporters that the players share their excitement as they look ahead to the final month of the season.

With all three of the sides gunning for a top-two finish having won on Good Friday, the race for the Championship could hardly be more finely balanced heading into the second half of the Easter double-header.

Win at London Road, and Sunderland will leapfrog Peterborough into second position (with a game in hand) and could go top if Hull lose at home to Northampton. Lose this afternoon, however, and the Black Cats will be five points adrift of their opponents and playing catch-up in their remaining eight games.

Excitement levels have been rising ever since Lee Johnson was appointed as manager in December, with the feelgood factor going up another notch or two when Power lifted the Papa John’s Trophy above his head at Wembley last month. The skipper accepts he and his team-mates need to keep things on an even keel, that does not mean they cannot be excited about what might lie in store in the next five weeks.

“The fans should get excited,” said Power. “There should be an excitement. We're on a run and now we're playing good football. We're on a great run. I've been at the other end of the table and I know what I'd rather be playing for.

“For us, and myself certainly as captain, I'll be trying to keep the dressing room level-headed. We can't control outside noise, but it's human nature to get excited. We're on the run-in and we're playing some good football.

“What pleased me most against Oxford (on Friday) was coming from behind. You can draw them quite easily or lose them. That was a good side we played against, so we put that one to bed and move on to Monday.”

The off-field fall-out from Friday’s game has also subsided, with Oxford boss Karl Robinson opting not to carry through on his threat to get the police involved in the half-time incident he alleges resulted in his goalkeeper, Jack Stevens, being head-butted by a member of Sunderland’s backroom staff.

Sunderland have also drawn a line under the incident, although it remains to be seen whether the FA decide to launch their own investigation into the clashes that took place in the tunnel at both half-time and immediately after the final whistle.

For now, attention switches to Peterborough, but while it might feel like something of a winner-takes-all encounter with the sides currently separated by just two points, Power feels it is much too early to be making such a definitive statement.

“I can understand why people would think that,” he said. “I’m not going to sugar-coat it, but for me, I don't feel as if it’s any bigger game than what we've got in the run-in. We’ve got nine real good games to look forward to.

“We’ll certainly be going there to try and win the game and hopefully we put in a performance to go and do that. It doesn't need heightening, it's on Sky and it's two good teams in the division.

“I was injured when we played Peterborough earlier in the season (when Sunderland won 1-0), and I watched from the stand and they’ve got some really good players. Everyone has got to bring something to the table now and embrace this run-in.”

Sunderland (probable, 4-3-3): Burge; McLaughlin, Sanderson, O’Nien, McFadzean; Power, Leadbitter, Winchester; O’Brien, Wyke, McGeady.