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Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Semi Final - Second Leg - Hillsborough

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Roker Roundtable: How much are you looking forward to the playoff final?

At the end of the week, the red and white army will descend on London for another playoff final. How are our panel feeling about the game?

Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Jack Howe-Gingell says…

It feels like our year.

If you asked me to quantify it or phrase it in a tangible manner, I wouldn’t be able to. It just feels like everything is aligning.

With a manager like Alex Neil at the helm, I have great faith that he will approach the game in the best way possible, with no fear, and with one eye on a ‘horses for courses’ approach. That is something you certainly need against teams like Wycombe.

All those days of hurt in the past- the Micky Gray penalty miss, Neil Shipperley sitting on Mart Poom, Jeff Whitley’s panenka- it’s finally time to put all of that to bed.

I feel like it is the perfect opportunity to get into the Championship, and given that many teams are struggling financially, coupled with our natural pull for that level, I do believe that we could actually challenge next season.

It’ll be a long old day for me, getting up early to travel down with my mam, auntie and uncle, and travelling back on the same day, but it’ll all be worth it if we can end the playoff curse and celebrate Championship football for next season!

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Semi Final - First Leg - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I’m quite good at not getting ahead of myself, but by the end of the week, I know I’ll be itching for the game to begin.

It is going to be great to see so many Lads fans on tour, as well as bumping into old friends, and after the atmosphere during the semi-finals, I think we’ll have Wembley Stadium bouncing.

In fact, getting there will be pretty straightforward, and making the arrangements was easy enough.

My mates and I have been before and prefer to drive, because it means that we can work to our own schedule and have a bit of craic on the way. What will make it even better this time is the fact that my eldest is coming with us for the first time, and we are then meeting up with some other family members in London.

Being with some of the people that mean the most to me will make the occasion even more memorable, and I hope that my daughter in particular remembers it for a long time.

My own experiences at the national stadium have not been too clever, however, and like a lot of Sunderland fans, I associate Wembley with pain.

The defeat to Manchester City in 2014 was one of the most disappointing days of my life, and the less said about Charlton Athletic, the better. Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy was a day out and it would have been nice to win, but Saturday is all about the result.

I went to the League Cup final convinced that we would win it, which is partially why it felt like such a sickener, but there seems to be a different mood around the club this time.

I suppose I was wrapped up in cup fever in 2014, but Sunderland have turned a corner in the last couple of months and are starting to show a real steely mentality. There will be a plan in place for Saturday, and the players are certainly capable of carrying it out.

This club needs to get back up to the second tier, and are looking more capable of it than they have in a while. See it through, and for once, we’ll all go home happy.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Semi Final - Second Leg - Hillsborough Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Lars Knutsen says…

My chances of attending the game in person evaporated because I had a business trip to the United States and Canada set up, with many urgent matters to deal with.

I followed the second leg of the playoff semi-final at Toronto airport via the commentary from Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett, and the coverage on the BBC website. It was a relief that the match did not go into extra time, as I was scheduled to fly to Winnipeg, so Patrick Roberts’ goal was celebrated for a host of good reasons.

I texted my friend John Ellington in Pennsylvania, the man behind the International Fans’ Day in February 2020, just to hear which SAFCSA event around Washington DC I could attend. There may be a gathering in a pub in Baltimore, with details to be confirmed.

Plan C, and a last-resort arrangement, will be to request a live feed of the Sky Sports coverage on Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp, from my old next door neighbour, Steve Hudson from Boldon.

The 2019 playoff final, was a real let-down, but this time, there is a real sense of momentum and positivity. We have not lost away from home since February, and there is a winning mixture of a resolute defence and potent attacking talent in this side.

I believe that Alex Neil will lead us to victory, despite what Wycombe will inevitably throw at us.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says…

During the run to the 1973 FA Cup final, I went to every tie (including a midweek game away at Reading) but could not get a ticket for the final. Even back then, there were difficulties with ‘fair’ ticket allocations, and as a teenager, it seemed inconceivable to me that the final could go ahead without my presence!

Fast forward forty nine years- and seven Wembley visits later- and I am still awaiting a follow-up victory to 1973. Is it asking too much? Should I be satisfied at merely getting the opportunity to attend, and how important is it to win?

I might add that some of those defeated homecomings contain moments of great humour and pride, as losing often brings out the best in us!

In reality, whatever my experiences, I am no different to the vast majority of Sunderland fans who will travel to the capital feeling no more or no less entitled to a victory than our Wycombe counterparts.

Of course, we have already ended our Wembley hoodoo with Lynden Gooch’s goal and the subsequent victory in the Papa John’s Trophy. I also have experienced a winning trip to Wembley, having joined my Morpeth-connected, Sunderland-supporting mates to follow the ‘Peth to victory in the 2016 FA Vase final against Hereford.

Without the slightest hint of embarrassment, I am recreating the same travel and hotel arrangements, as well as meeting up with companions for the weekend.

This means that ‘wor youngen’ and I will travel to London by train on Friday lunchtime, before returning on Sunday. We will stay at our regular hotel in the Kings Cross area and will hopefully enjoy beers, banter and tales of the ‘glory years’ with my Morpeth-connected Sunderland friends.

Social media and mobile phones have certainly made this kind of escapade easier to plan. The short turnaround from the semi-final has created an unholy scramble for the fans, but once I got my hands on a pair of tickets, the rest of the arrangements fell into place reasonably smoothly- so much so, in fact, that I can’t help feeling I have forgotten something!

With match tickets, travel and billet sorted, the game cannot come soon enough. I actually have a reasonable gut feeling about the this match, having travelled more in hope than confidence for at least four of my previous seven trips.

Whatever the result, I am sure that we will embrace the occasion, as well as getting right behind our team. If we are victorious, and you are on the lunchtime train back to Newcastle next Sunday, do not be too upset if I don’t speak to you. It will only be because I am quietly reflecting on our victory.

Enjoy your weekend, get to Wembley and roar the Lads on, ‘til the end.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off S-F Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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