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Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg

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ITHICS Fanzine: I think our time has come... and I can’t wait!

“This time, I really do believe that we can end our playoff curse and finish the job against Wycombe,” writes Nic Wiseman of ITHICS Fanzine.

Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

We all know that the playoffs have not been a happy hunting ground for Sunderland over the years, to put it mildly.

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-off Final Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Since they were first introduced in 1987, the club has been involved in them on six occasions, and have never won the hallowed prize of promotion.

Back in 1987, we were involved in the inaugural set of matches.

In the early days of the end-of-season lottery, the third worst-placed team in the league above played off with the third, fourth and fifth-placed teams in the division below.

Therefore, after finishing third-bottom, we were matched up against Gillingham, who had finished fifth in the old Third Division.

Unfortunately for us, Gillingham sent Sunderland into the third tier after a crazy two-legged tie, which ended 6-6 on aggregate.

Gillingham claimed a 3-2 victory in their home tie, and we won the game at Roker Park by the same scoreline. A goal for each team in extra time meant that Gillingham went through on away goals, sending us down to the third tier for the first time in our history.

Inexplicably, whilst researching the finer points of this match, I discovered a piece on the Newcastle fanzine site, The Mag, about the game. Obsessed? Them? Nah!

Three years later, with Denis Smith in charge, we returned to the playoffs.

We were in a euphoric mood at the time, having dispatched the Mags 2-0 in their own backyard to send us to the Wembley final. This came after Paul Hardyman was deified for his sending off in the first leg after kicking Mag goalkeeper John Burridge in the head during the first leg at Roker, which ended goalless.

Sadly, the final was a damp squib, with Swindon winning an awful game 1-0, but due to Swindon’s financial shenanigans, Sunderland became the first team to be promoted via the playoffs despite losing the final.

Soccer - Barclays League Division Two - Playoff Finals - Swindon Town v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

This decision was all the more delightful for our fans, as Newcastle were left apoplectic. They insisted that they should have filled the vacant top-flight place on the basis of their higher league placing, but nothing came of it. Tee hee!

Our most famous playoff appearance came in 1998, when we faced Charlton in an incredible game.

During the regular season, the top three places were filled by Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough and us - the three clubs who had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of 1996/97. With the teams regularly swapping places, Sunderland finished in third place at the end of the 1997/98 season.

As we all know, the game finished 4-4 after extra time, and it took thirteen penalty kicks to separate the sides. Ultimately, Mickey Gray was the fall guy, with his tame effort smothered by Charlton goalkeeper, Saša Ilić.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Play-Off Final - Charlton Athletic v Sunderland Photo by Michael Steele/EMPICS via Getty Images

2004 saw us lose to Crystal Palace in the semi-finals, and the less said about that, the better. Fifteen years later, we came a cropper against the Addicks in the 2019 final, and lost to Lincoln in the semi-finals last year.

This year, we go to the national stadium to play in a promotion decider for the fourth time, and we stand a very good chance of finally breaking our duck.

Alex Neil has been successful at this stage of the season, guiding Norwich to the Premier League via a Wembley victory, and he has also been impressive in shoring up Sunderland’s previously leaky defence.

Also, our fans are housed in the east side of the stadium for the first time since the 1973 FA Cup final, and we all know what happened then. As for our recent encounters with Wycombe, we beat them comfortably at home, and were involved in a dramatic 3-3 draw at Adams Park.

I think our time has come. And I can’t wait.


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