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Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Play-Off: First Leg

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On This Day (11th May 2019): Chris Maguire lands first blow in play-off semi-final!

After throwing automatic promotion, Sunderland got themselves back on track with a big win at the Stadium of Light against Pompey - thanks to a great goal from Chris Maguire!

Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The disappointing end to the 2018-19 season in League One resulted in Sunderland reigniting their so-called “rivalry” with Portsmouth in the EFL play-off series.

Following an uninspiring end to the regular season, hope and confidence were at a low ebb among the fanbase. Truthfully, the team was playing poorly, and there appeared to be a disconnect between the team and fans after the aforementioned poor end to the season.

It is likely that many readers of this piece would have seen Charlie Methven’s efforts in the Netflix series “Sunderland ‘til I Die” on how he wanted to make as much money as possible from this game.

As is always the case, there are various reasons why fans cannot attend a particular game, but it seemed apparent that fans were voting with their feet by deciding not to go to this game.

An attendance of around 26,610 was quoted as the official figure from the game, which is just over half of the capacity. Compared to the sold-out figure of 46,309 that attended the game against Bradford on Boxing Day, it showed the severity of the increase in unhappiness surrounding the team at this particular moment.

Before the match, Jack Ross expressed his disappointment but also his determination to try to salvage a season that was starting to unravel.

It feels like we’re the only club in the country - and I don’t mean internally - that isn’t embracing that we have these play-off games when they usually create excitement.

Clubs find themselves in the play-offs for all sorts of different reasons.

The question is, do you sit and feel sorry for yourself, or do you embrace the next two or three games and get excited by them?

Sunderland v MK Dons - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As for the game itself, Sunderland played better football throughout. The home side took the initiative from the outset, hoping to score an early goal.

The loss of Aiden McGeady was a blow for Jack Ross’s men, who found out he had broken his foot. His replacement, Lynden Gooch, was one of Sunderland’s chief creative players, and the home side’s chances came through him.

Two chances fell to Charlie Wyke, with the striker first unable to direct his header on target from Gooch’s cross before firing over when stretching on the half-volley 10 yards out.

Gooch then forced a comfortable save out of Portsmouth keeper Craig MacGillivray with the first and only effort on target in the first period.

It was all Sunderland, with Portsmouth barely creating anything of note. That being said, the away side had a decent call for a penalty turned away after Tom Flanagan inexplicably pushed Hawkins in the box.

Sunderland upped the tempo after the break, and it took a remarkable save from MacGillivray to keep Pompey on level terms. The keeper somehow turned George Honeyman’s close-range header over the bar off his face.

This game needed a moment of magic from a big-game player, and there were very few players in the EFL at the time who loved a big game more than Chris Maguire.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One Play-Off: First Leg Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

From a header cleared from the box, Maguire caught a perfect volley on the edge of the box that beat MacGillivray in the Portsmouth goal. It was a sublime strike from the Scot who relished occasions like this.

Minutes later, the pendulum seemed to swing in favor of Portsmouth again after Alim Ozturk was sent off for a tackle on the edge of the box. Ozturk was adjudged to have denied a clear and obvious goal-scoring opportunity when Evans’ touch had appeared to take him away from goal.

It was the wrong call, and it could have been worse if Evans’ shot had not rattled the Sunderland crossbar from the resulting free-kick.

As it happened, the home side held on for a crucial win with a crucial goal from Chris Maguire. As we all know now, that goal was the only goal to come in the two legs against Pompey.

Jack Ross had earned his reprieve, but how long would it last?

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


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