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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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Match Report: Three years longer than expected, but Sunderland are promoted to the Championship

“This gigantic club has had years and years of heartbreak and torture, but finally their road to recovery is back on”, writes Finlay Anderson after Saturday’s play-off final win at Wembley.

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images


Sunderland have been promoted to the Sky Bet Championship after breaking both their playoff and Wembley curse in front of 72,000 supporters.

The Black Cats waved a happy goodbye to England’s third tier as goals from Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart sealed our progression back to the Championship.

In Alex Neil’s side final match of a turbulent season, it was the rather perfect ending in front of a 46,000-plus Wearside contingent in the national stadium, as Sunderland controlled proceedings during the ninety minutes.

For The Lads, the nightmare is over: Alex Neil has guided us out of the deep depths of the third tier, and the Sky Bet Championship awaits in late July.

Neil made just one change to his starting eleven, with Elliot Embleton replacing Jack Clarke - one that appeared to be a shrewd move right from the start of the action.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

We dominated the ball right from the off, and Wycombe were struggling to keep up; especially Chairboys’ skipper Joe Jacobson, who was given a hard time by Patrick Roberts on our right hand side.

Roberts, linking up with Alex Pritchard, was proving instrumental in the forward areas for the Black Cats, and Pritchard went oh so close early on, as his free-kick was curled narrowly - agonisingly - wide of the left post.

Alex Neil’s side continued to cause Wycombe problem after problem, and whilst on the counter-attack, Sunderland were at their most dangerous.

Ross Stewart was inches away from connecting with Roberts’ cross, before Elliot Embleton’s cross-turned-shot forced Wycombe ‘keeper David Stockdale to tip his effort over the bar.

But, only minutes later, Neil’s side were ahead.

Embleton picked the ball up just inside of the Sunderland half, before drifting effortlessly away from two Wycombe bodies. He looked up, continued to drive forward, and then sent a ferocious effort past a questionable Stockdale - sending the West End of Wembley into absolute pure delirium.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

The fightback from Gareth Ainsworth’s side was always to be expected: they held the ball up for large periods of time, but just didn’t have enough to trouble us.

Yet, for all Wycombe started to slightly up the tempo, the Sunderland faithful may have found it harsh that they only went into the half-time interval with a one-goal advantage.

Stewart’s curling effort had to be palmed away by Stockdale, whilst Roberts couldn’t produce anything from the rebound.

But, for all of Sunderland’s comfort on the ball, there was always a slight fear in the stands at Wembley of a potential Wycombe comeback.

Yet, this is no ‘typical Sunderland’. This is a team writing their own rules, and after the half-time interval they were forced to see off a period of Chairboys pressure before they could start building again.

With their first real attempt of the second 45, they probably should have accelerated away: Pritchard’s cross being sent wide of the left post by the head of Ross Stewart.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

After their slight spell of pressure, Wycombe did still continue to look a threat, but arguably their best chance was gifted to them on a plate by centre-back, Bailey Wright. Anthony Stewart’s long ball forward was misjudged by the Sunderland defender, and allowed striker Sam Vokes in behind - only for the Wycombe striker to be denied by a magnificent composed save from Anthony Patterson.

Only moments later, substitute Brandon Hanlan created another great chance for Ainsworth’s side, but his weak effort proved to be a comfortable save for Patterson, whilst less than a minute later the game, and Sunderland’s promotion was sealed.

A superb move orchestrated by Pritchard saw him find room to feed Stewart, who arrowed a low effort into the bottom right corner.

Cue delirium - again - in the West End of Wembley.

The end-result was arguably made to seem less comfortable for the Black Cats than it actually was: Neil’s side should have probably added, at least, another one as Roberts’ effort from a quick counter was sent wide, before Clarke’s close-range shot was denied by Stockdale.

But, nothing was denying Sunderland this time - sparking mass celebration from the travelling Mackems, with Corry Evans lifting the League One play-off final trophy.

Jack Ross, Phil Parkinson and Lee Johnson have all tried and failed at taking this historic club back on the first step to where it belongs, but Alex Neil has succeeded.

The credit needed, in looking at where the club were when he took on the job to where they’ve finished, is simply massive.

This gigantic club has had years and years of heartbreak and torture, but finally our road to recovery is back on.

The Championship awaits.


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