Sunderland’s season is not over yet as we’re through to the League One play-off final after producing yet another draw, but this time when it actually matters, against Portsmouth.
Some magnificent saves from Jon McLaughlin and some fantastic game management from the gaffer, Jack Ross, helped Sunderland clinch a second visit to Wembley to face Charlton or Doncaster. That is to be decided on Friday night, where Charlton have a 2-1 advantage going into the home leg at the Valley.
So, Sunderland have one game of their season left and that is the biggest one of all as they face either Charlton or Doncaster on Sunday 26th May 2019 at 15:00 - and what an occasion it’ll be!
Jack Ross made two changes to the side that won 1-0 against Pompey on Saturday night in the first leg of this play-off semi-final. Grant Leadbitter came into midfield, while Chris Maguire started the match after scoring the winning goal on Saturday. Lynden Gooch dropped out of the side, as did Lewis Morgan. The gaffer named a very attacking bench, with Grigg, Gooch, Morgan and Duncan Watmore all ready to be called upon.
The Black Cats knew that if they wanted to progress through to the final they couldn’t lose the match, despite having a one goal advantage. Sunderland fans hoped that Sunderland could produce another draw as that would be enough to send them one step closer to promotion to the Championship.
First Half: Sunderland Frustrate Pompey
Sunderland’s first attempt of the match came from Grant Leadbitter when his shot from around 25 yards out was sent curling into the gloves of Craig MacGillivray, who dove down to his left.
After that, the hosts had a number of chances that failed to test Jon McLaughlin, but they were making their way back into the game - and they got even closer when Close played the ball to Pitman, who tried a short cross over McLaughlin to Hawkins which failed to reach the Pompey striker, who was in an offside position.
Sunderland had a brilliant chance when Maguire lifted the ball over MacGillivray, just inside the penalty area on the left. He was in behind the Pompey goalkeeper but lost his footing, allowing Burgess to clear for a Sunderland corner.
McLaughlin produced a magnificent save when Hawkins nodded the ball down to the onrushing Evans, and from a few yards out his header was superbly kept out by the legs of McLaughlin.
Then, from the resulting corner, Matthew Clarke’s header clipped the top of the visitors’ crossbar. Sunderland had ridden this storm, but this wouldn’t be the last one of the match.
Second Half: Pompey Can’t Find A Breakthrough
Portsmouth had the first huge opportunity of the second half when Brown crossed the ball into the area, where Hawkins was lurking. He rose the highest and his header was tipped over the bar by the finger-tips by McLaughlin.
Jack Ross made his first roll of the dice when he brought on Lynden Gooch in the place of Chris Maguire, who was on a booking.
James Vaughan - who had just came on as a substitute - had a chance to level the tie against his former side, when his header from the back post was diverted away by the legs of McLaughlin.
In the matter of a few moments, Sunderland made two changes; first, Jack Ross brought on Lewis Morgan for Max Power and then he brought on Will Grigg, who replaced Charlie Wyke. The fourth official then added on six minutes that Sunderland had to hold out for a second trip to Wembley this season.
After a nervy six minutes when Sunderland fans had their fingers in their mouths, they managed to hold out, which was greeted by a load roar by the travelling support and the ones watching elsewhere, knowing they can prepare for another trip to Wembley.
Next up, we face one of the biggest games in our recent history as we are one game away from promotion straight back to Championship. Who we face will be decided on Friday night, when both Charlton and Doncaster face off at the Valley.
Charlton will be the strongest opposition, but whoever we face we’ll have to put in the best performance of the season. I know that all of the fans who travel down to Wembley will have a good weekend, and hopefully the Lads can give something for the fans to celebrate.