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

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Fan Letters: “What a ride!” - How good did it feel to see Sunderland do the business at Wembley?

“I flew back from Malta to watch the game - I missed my first flight, so didn’t arrive until half time, but it was by far the best day of my life,” writes RR reader Niall! Got something to say? Email us: RokerReport@yahoo.co.uk

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Now that the dust is starting to settle on the 21/22 season - being a bit of a stats geek I decided to have a look back through the rollercoaster 9 months that we have had.

I had forgotten a little how well we started - averaging well over 2PPG until our first big dive of the season started at home to Charlton.

Indeed, if you split the season into 3 stages the stats tell quite a story.

Lee Johnson’s first 12 games (up to and including Crewe away) saw an excellent return of 2.33 points per game, scoring an average of 2 goals per game and conceding an average of 1, giving an average goal difference per game of plus 1. By stark contrast, his next 17 games - starting at home to Charlton and finishing of course away at Bolton - saw an alarming drop to 1.53 PPG with 1.53 goals for, 1.76 against and so a minus 0.23 average goal difference. This lays bare the negative trend that Speakman spoke of when explaining Johnson’s sacking.

The next two games under Mike Dodds, but chalked down to Speakman, are best forgotten and thankfully after Saturday can be confined to the bin - then finally, in comes Alex Neil.

The 17 games overseen by the beautiful bald Scot saw an average of 1.55 goals for - not much different from LJ’s poor spell - but as we all know, the main change was at the other end where we conceded a miserly 0.61 goals per game, giving an average goal difference of plus 0.94 - back up close to Johnson’s good start. If you assign league points to the play off games, Neil managed 2.06 PPG which is particularly impressive given it clearly took until the Wigan away game for his message to start to sink in with the players (excluding Neil’s first 3 matches gives him a PPG of 2.33) Also tellingly - Neil oversaw more clean sheets (9) in his 17 games that Johnson did (8) in his 29.

So, in conclusion, the numbers back up what we all felt - while Johnson started really well, he lost his way badly, and had the form of his second 17 games continued for the rest of the season we would have likely finished with around 80 points and outside of the play-offs. Instead, Neil tightened us up and returned us to the form, if not the style, of the first 12 games - which ultimately got the job done, even if we needed an extra 3 games to do it.

What a ride! Here’s to a quiet top 10 finish in the Championship next season!

Paul Burdon (Chester le Street)

Ed’s Note [Gav]: Importantly for me, the change in our style sets us up better for the Championship. The players have bought in to a culture of defending as a team, and taking responsibility in attack, and I feel that way of playing will give us a fantastic platform to kick on next season and finish in the top half of the table.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I flew back from Malta to watch the game - I missed my first flight, so didn’t arrive until half time, but it was by far the best day of my life.

Niall Burnage

Ed’s Note [Gav]: The loyalty of our fans knows no bounds, really. Even for those of us who live in the British Isles, this weekend came at a huge expense. The fact so many fans flew in from all around the world just to be there blows my mind - you lot are the best of us.

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

Dear Roker Report,

Saturday was excellent, but my most enjoyable part was seeing my grandad - who had been so sad after losing his wife - beaming with delight after the goals went in.

For me, it was falling down two rows and snapping off a seat and keeping it.

Aidan the Destroyer

Ed’s Note [Gav]: An apt name you have there, Mr Destroyer. Every single one of us in that ground on the day has memories that we’ll cherish forever - I was there with my dad, who had been to Wembley on seven previous occasions and had never seen us win.

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

Dear Roker Report,

Well... after four seasons we’ve finally done it! Well done lads, what a performance. Just as in 1973 we didn’t freeze on the big day and played some fabulous football.

I have three abiding memories of the weekend.

Firstly the Sunderland supporters. Yet again they’ve turned out in their thousands. Both in Trafalgar Square and then Wembley itself. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up with the rendition of ‘Wise Men Say’ both before and after the match.

Then during the match, with the score at 1-0, there was a point-blank save from Anthony Patterson to deny Sam Vokes. I thought to myself at that point “there’s no way we’re going to lose this now”.

Finally, at 2-0, Luke O’Nien launched in to a thunderous challenge on one of the Wycombe players to win the ball. As he got up he punched the air and yelled “come on!”.

The lads were certainly up for it on the day.

I can’t speak too highly of the job Alex Neil and his backroom staff have done in such a short space of time. Let’s hope we can kick on in the Championship next season.

Bill Vaughan

Ed’s Note [Gav]: Agree with all of that - it was a special performance on a special day. Even before the game I had no doubt in my mind that we’d win - I just thought it would be by more! There was a different feel about the occasion, I just didn’t see any way that we’d lose.


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