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Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Editorial: It wouldn’t be Sunderland without the drama!

It’s never boring being a Sunderland fan and ahead of the play-offs it’s worth putting this achievement into some perspective.

Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

[Gav’s Note: Better late than never, Chris!]

On one hand this is so very Sunderland and on the other this is so very unlike Sunderland.

If we start with the drama, it wouldn’t be our club if our season fizzled out into mediocrity. We don’t do boring - every season seems to go right to the wire and leaves you utterly exhausted. There’s always a twist and usually it involves what feels like a dagger to the heart where the pain lasts for weeks.

But what isn’t typical of the club we love is how we’ve ended up in a top-six finish against all the odds and we also experienced that rare sensation of other results going our way when we rely on them to do so.

There are statistics banded around that we had occupied a play-off position for only 18 days since October and this was only the second year in the last 30 that a side made the top-six with less than 70 points - but there’s not a doubt in my mind that we deserved an extended season.

Let’s not for one minute underestimate the achievement of this side regardless of how the play-offs play out.

Soccer - Notts County Photocall
Neil Warnock’s Notts County were the first to achieve back-to-back promotions via the play-offs up to the top tier back in 1991
Photo by Phil O’Brien/EMPICS via Getty Images

To put our performance this season into perspective, only two sides since the introduction of the play-offs in 1986-87 have finished in the top-six in the season after achieving promotion from the third tier via the play-offs - Neil Warnock’s Notts County back in 1991 and Manchester City in 2000.

Not only that, but out of the 36 years since the play-offs began, the average position in the second tier after coming up through the extension to the season is 16th - and in only 11 out of those 36 years has that side finished above 12th in the table.

To do this with any make-up of the squad would be an achievement, but to do what we have with a squad that boasts an average age of around 23 years old - where 15 are 22 or under - and over half the squad have never played at this level before, makes it all the more remarkable.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed seeing the Lads win in all sorts of settings and stages in competitions, but the recent wins and performances that this side has produced at the likes of Norwich, Burnley, West Brom and Preston, it’s a struggle to think of a Sunderland side I’ve been prouder of.

Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Stadium
At least two more games to see this man in action...
Photo by Tim Markland/PA Images via Getty Images

At times it’s been a case of underestimating this side and joining Tony Mowbray to play it all down, but this young side just keep stepping up to the plate and a run of nine games unbeaten going into the end of the season took us over the line.

For once, there is a viewpoint that this play-off campaign is a win-win scenario. Take it to Wembley and do the business and we’ll look forward to an impromptu season in the Premier League way ahead of schedule, and if we lose, then I’d be looking forward to another entertaining season in the Championship with this young side.

Listening to some of these young players following the Preston game, it feels like this was their plan all along and they always believed, maybe more than we did in the stands. You get the impression that they have the belief that the quality of football they have produced this season deserved a second chance in the play-offs and that a promotion push wasn’t beyond them, even when history tells them they had no right.

Who knows what might happen in the summer, it might be the last time we see a handful of these talented players and it’s a treat that we get to see this side play in at least two more games. It’s fun being a Sunderland fan again, for a long time it wasn’t.

On This Day (9 June 2007): Midfielder turns down Sunderland return – and heads to Bolton instead


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