Last weekends victory at Plymouth Argyle secured Sunderland’s place in the League One playoffs. During the Easter period, the Black Cats were in automatic promotion contention. However, a poor run of form, resulting in seven games without a win, gave Lee Johnson’s men a nervy end to the season. The 3-1 victory at Plymouth confirmed their place in the playoffs and if history repeats itself, there could be heartache on Wearside due to past results involving Sunderland and the playoffs.
However, Sunderland fans saw their team succeed at Wembley for the first time since 1973 earlier this season and following last weeks victory, another one on Sunday could set up the Red and Whites for further Wembley heroics.
Sunderland and the Playoffs Coming Face to Face Once Again
Last Day Win Could Give Momentum Needed
Sunderland take on already-relegated Northampton Town in their final league game of the season. A win will not only determine where the Black Cats will finish and deciding who they will face in the semi-finals of the playoffs but it will also give them momentum and a crucial confidence boost.
The past month has been difficult for Lee Johnson and his players. They went from automatic promotion contenders to battling to stay in the playoff positions. Last weeks victory guaranteed the Black Cats another go at promotion and another victory against a team with only pride to play for would give players, staff and fans what could be a priceless confidence boost.
Sunderland Manager Lee Johnson Confident of Playoff Success
Speaking ahead of the Plymouth victory, Lee Johnson was not only confident of securing a spot in the playoffs but also reaching the final. He said: I don’t care who we play in that semi-final, I fancy us. If we’re right, rested, prepared and focused, then I’d fancy us over two legs against anybody in the division. That might sound a bit bullish. I’m sure that’s what the Sunderland fans would like to hear, but I also fully believe it.
“My short-term concern is high after the recent run of results, but my long-term concern is zero. I am very confident that if we secure the play-offs, and then have that time to rest and work, we will come out of the traps like a greyhound. I’m very, very confident in that.”
Wembley Curse Lifted
Sunderland finally lifted their Wembley curse this season. Their victory in the EFL Trophy saw the Red and Whites win at the home of football for the first time since 1973. Since that famous day almost 50 years ago, Sunderland had visited Wembley eight times before their victory against Tranmere Rovers, and lost on each occasion.
It may not have been the FA Cup, but a victory at Wembley in a cup final is still a victory at Wembley. The curse has been broken, it is now time to put that losing streak behind them and make it two wins from two this season.
Sunderland and the Playoffs: A History
Sunderland’s history in the playoffs, apart from the occasional good result in a semi-final, does not make good reading if you are a Sunderland fan. For every great memory (beating Newcastle United in the semifinals in 1990), there are several bad ones. Here is a look back at the Black Cats history in the playoffs.
1987 v Gillingham
A disaster of a season saw Lawrie McMenemy leave before the end of the season. Club legend Bob Stokoe took his place but was unable to save the club from relegation to England’s third tier. In the early days of the playoffs, the team third bottom of Division Two (now the Championship) played the side that finished fifth in Division Three (now League One).
In a two-legged semi-final (the winners would face the victors of the game against third and fourth in Division Three), Sunderland travelled to Gillingham but were defeated 3-2. It set up what would be a nail-biting and heartbreaking game back on Wearside. The return leg at Roker Park went into extra time due to Sunderland winning 3-2 after 90 minutes. Both sides would score again but with the game ending 4-3 to Sunderland, Gillingham progressed via away goals. Sunderland were relegated to England’s third tier for the first time in their history.
1990 v Newcastle and Swindon Town
Sunderland faced arch-rivals Newcastle United in a two-legged semi-final. The winners would travel to Wembley to play for a place to be amongst England’s elite the following season. Following a 0-0 draw at Sunderland, many Newcastle fans believed it was a forgone conclusion that they would be going to the final. However, Sunderland outplayed their rivals at St. James’ Park winning 2-0.
The final was a huge disappointment for Sunderland fans. In a one-sided game, they were defeated by Swindon Town 1-0 at Wembley. In the days that followed, Sunderland were awarded promotion due to Swindon being punished after being found guilty of 36 breaches of league rules.
1998 v Sheffield United and Charlton Athletic
In one of the best games seen at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland overcame a 2-1 deficit to beat Sheffield United 2-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate to set up a final at Wembley with Charlton Athletic.
The 1998 playoff final is seen by many as the best game to have been played at the old Wembley. An end to end match went into extra time after ending 90 minutes at 4-4. The game was eventually decided by a penalty shoot-out. 14 penalties were taken with one being missed. Michael Gray saw his penalty saved and Charlton headed to the Premier League.
2004 v Crystal Palace
Having lost 3-2 in the first leg at Selhurst Park, the two teams knew what they needed to do at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland believed they had done enough when leading 2-0 late in the game. However, a late goal from Palace took the game into extra time.
Once again penalties were unkind to the Black Cats as they lost 5-4. Midfielder Jeff Whitely missed the final kick, having tried to chip the goalkeeper.
2019 – Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic
Sunderland got some revenge on Portsmouth, having been defeated in the EFL Trophy final earlier in the season. A 1-0 aggregate win set up another final with Charlton. Once again the Addicks were victorious. The Black Cats took an early lead but Charlton equalised before halftime. With the game looking set for extra time, Athletic scored in the final seconds to break Red and White hearts once again.