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

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Hot Takes: After so much pain and frustration since 2018, we’ve won the playoffs at last!

With one final effort, Alex Neil’s men ensured that there would be no more Wembley heartache, as they saw off Wycombe to reach the Championship. What a day!

Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

From the opening-day victory against Charlton in August 2018, to an emotionally-draining triumph over Wycombe under the Wembley arch.

Sunderland's League One odyssey - under a succession of different managers and with players arriving and leaving with regularity - has been a grind. Genuine enjoyment has been hard to come by, and games have rarely been entertaining.

After another long, hard season this was our chance to take that much-desired next step and finally break free from the clutches of this league.

Everything was in place: the team’s form, the manager’s confidence, and the belief of the supporters. We were aware of the challenge that Wycombe would pose, but we came into the match with no fear.

It was obvious that Alex Neil’s starting eleven, with Elliot Embleton restored, was chosen with attack and positivity in mind. This was about grabbing the opportunity rather than hoping it would simply fall into our hands.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Federico Maranesi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland began the game in the manner we needed to. We moved the ball crisply and accurately, and with Patrick Roberts causing all kinds of havoc, it was obvious that Neil’s plan was to get at Wycombe early and take the game to them.

The players looked as though they were rising to the challenge, and were being spurred on by raucous backing from the red and white hordes.

An early chance came and went when a curling free kick from Alex Pritchard skimmed past the post, and shortly thereafter, Ross Stewart almost connected with an accurate ball to the back post, but couldn’t quite stretch far enough to find the killer touch.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal.

In this season where youth and vigour has been so heavily discussed, it was fitting that Embleton, a local lad who has emerged into the first-team picture with aplomb, should be the one to open the scoring.

After picking up the ball on the halfway line, he thundered towards the Wycombe goal before letting fly from twenty yards. David Stockdale fumbled the shot, and the net rippled for 1-0. Cue bedlam in the Sunderland end, and Embleton’s roar was one of the most telling images of this season.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The early stages of the second half was much more of a battle, and Sunderland were forced to dig deeper into their reserves of resilience, but our hallmark under Neil is the ability to weather such storms and emerge unscathed.

As Wycombe turned up the pressure they began to pin us back - and when Wright misjudged a ball into the box Sam Vokes almost made us pay, but Patterson stood strong and denied him with a fine block.

As the half wore on we gradually regained control, and the introduction of Jack Clarke proved to be a shrewd move from Neil. The on-loan Spurs winger gave us an outlet and his pace and trickery immediately put Wycombe on alert.

Indeed, he could’ve set up Stewart for a tap-in had it not been for a last-ditch block.

Sunderland’s second goal came from Stewart. Taking up a menacing position on the edge of the box, he shifted the ball to his right and thumped a shot past a flat-footed Stockdale for 2-0.

Suddenly all of the nerves and tension were expelled, and although Wycombe continued to press we were able to see out the game. There was no wavering or slacking - just a relentless drive towards the final whistle.

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

Just like at Hillsborough in the semi-final, several of Sunderland’s players upped their game and were able to stamp their mark on the occasion.

The likes of Patterson - who performed with a level of composure that was scarcely believable, and Roberts - who brought his A-game at the perfect time - turned this final into their own personal showcase.

At the back, Bailey Wright and Danny Batth were generally solid and Stewart - who will hopefully now remain at the club - turned in another all-action display.

Every player in red and white can be proud of their efforts, and they should rightly be heralded for doing what no Sunderland team has ever done before.

Never mind relying on the law of averages or a fluke goal to finally taste the glory of victory at Wembley. This was a fully-merited win and the perfect way to bring the curtain down on a suitably crazy season. In January, few would’ve predicted it would happen, but belief can carry you a long way in football.

Sunderland are Championship-bound, and those are the words we’ve all wanted to hear for a long time. Just as the social media hashtag implored us to do, we kept going ‘til the end, and were rewarded with the sweetest conclusion of all.


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