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Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Stadium

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Talking Points: Sunderland defy the odds to snatch a playoff place!

Sunderland rode a Lancashire storm on Monday afternoon to win 0-3 and secure a most unlikely playoff berth. Mitch Marshall looks at the main stories from the game

Photo by Tim Markland/PA Images via Getty Images

A most dramatic day!

Football, eh? Bloody hell.

When Millwall’s third goal went in against Blackburn Rovers at The Den, I thought our playoff chances were done for.

At the same time, our old pals on Teesside also seemed to be doing their best to stifle our best-laid plans, and Duncan Watmore of all people had scored twice to all but seal the Lions’ place in the playoffs at our expense.

We weren’t covering ourselves in glory at Deepdale either, and I was slowly accepting that this was where our fairytale season ended.

However, this is the fiftieth anniversary week of our 1973 FA Cup win, when Brian Clough dismissed our chances of victory at Wembley as like believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden…and look how that ended!

We did our job valiantly in the second half, and it’s notable that post-match, Tony Mowbray said that he genuinely didn’t hear the scores from the other games. That seemed to be reflected in our clinical focus in the second half, as Millwall went haywire in London.

All told, it was a rollercoaster end to a rollercoaster normal season and I’ve got no doubts that the playoffs will be just as full of twists and turns, and I can’t wait!

Millwall v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Terrific Tony

Tony Mowbray is rapidly becoming not just a Sunderland man, but a myth and a legend too.

He might refuse to get overly animated on the touchline or with the press, but his calm demeanour has helped to inspire our incredibly young team to do all his talking for him out on the pitch this season.

Our second half salvo on Monday summed this up perfectly.

Having had a bit of a rocky first half, Mowbray took a big gamble in replacing the injured Dennis Cirkin with Alex Pritchard. This left us with three defenders on the pitch, none of whom were playing in their natural positions.

However, as has happened so often this season, the gamble paid huge dividends. We actually had far more control thanks to Pritchard’s assured presence in midfield, and Preston couldn’t adapt quickly enough to stop us routing them.

In retrospect, calling bringing on a player of Pritchard’s class a ‘risky move’ seems ridiculous, but Mowbray saw that when I didn’t and thank heavens he did.

I’m sure he’ll keep making the bold decisions when they count and I couldn’t think of a better man to lead this squad into the playoffs.

Dry your eyes, Alex Neil!

Preston North End v Sunderland: Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

This squad, this club!

This is nothing new to any of you I’m sure, but yesterday showed everything I’ve loved about being a Sunderland fan this season.

Once again, the young guns fired us past Preston while the experienced heads in the team like Pritchard and Luke O’Nien steadied the ship when it was most needed. This could well be Pritchard’s swan song at Sunderland, and he reminded us why he’s so loved by the fans.

He’d be a loss but the future for this club, whatever happens in the next couple of weeks, seems super bright.

On that note, I also thought Pierre Ekwah had his best game as a senior professional.

I’ve questioned his naivety on multiple occasions this season but he was an absolute powerhouse who dominated the midfield at times while playing some fantastic passes, and releasing Joe Gelhardt for a chance he really should’ve taken at 0-0.

If young players like Ekwah, who’ve been in and out of the team, can step up now and in the months to come, we should all have room for optimism.

This summer may bring plenty of change to the squad but the success of our permanent signings gives me confidence that we’ll get things right in the long term, no matter how much losing the likes of the Amad will hurt.

Our fans were premier class on Monday, too, and I can’t remember hearing a louder away end on TV all season.

The lads and lasses kept the faith and spurred the team on to victory when a playoff place looked far from certain, or even likely. Now, much like our away form, we need to take that noise and passion back across the Pennines.

If we can replicate the first leg atmosphere against Sheffield Wednesday from last season, we’ve got the players to give Luton a real run for their money.

We’ve never feared any team this season and I don’t see why we should start now. Yesterday showed exactly what this club is capable of, so let’s do it.

Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Stadium Photo by Tim Markland/PA Images via Getty Images

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