The latest edition of the Sunderland weekly round-up looks back on the latest news from the Stadium of Light. There was one and one thing only on the minds of all Sunderland supporters this past week, Wembley. Alex Neil led his team to Wembley with an impressive end-of-season run ending in London against Wycombe Wanderers in the League One Play-Off Final. Would the Black Cats seal promotion back to the Championship after four long years in League One?
Black Cats Seal Promotion Back to the Championship
All About One Game for Sunderland and Their Fans
For Sunderland and their fans, it was all about the play-off final at Wembley on Saturday. It was a must-win game for them and the club, defeat was unthinkable. The Black Cats had spent four years in England’s third tier and for a club the size of Sunderland, it was four years too long.
Over 46,000 made the journey to London to cheer on their team, some optimistic, many nervous. More tickets had been requested for the 90,000 capacity stadium but were refused meaning there would be empty seats due to Wycombe selling approximately 22,000.
Sunderland had not won at Wembley in front of fans since 1973 and although they did win the EFL Trophy at Wembley last year, Covid restrictions meant that no fans could be in attendance. However, for the first time since that famous FA Cup final victory 49 years previous, fans would be seated in the West side of the stadium. This may mean little to some, but for a club desperate for promotion, and one that had been beaten seven times with their fans on the opposite side of the stadium since 1973, they’ll take any good omen that comes their way.
Trafalgar Square Takeover
Thousands travelled to the capital a day early, something which has become a tradition when Sunderland play at Wembley. Another red and white takeover of London was widely reported and widely applauded for the way fans conducted themselves. Due to recent performances and results since Alex Neil took charge being as positive as it could get, fans were, on the surface, in a confident mood that this would finally be their year.
#TrafalgarTakeover #safc pic.twitter.com/FKaeRSXnEG
— James Hunter (@JHunterChron) May 20, 2022
Black Cats Seal Promotion at Wembley
All the pain experienced during past play-off finals were all but forgotten on Saturday. Cheered on by the red and white army, Alex Neil and his team looked in no mood for this to be anything other than their day. Alex Pritchard had fans celebrating in the first minute when his freekick went narrowly wide, hitting the side netting. To many, it looked like a goal.
However, it didn’t take long for Sunderland to make the breakthrough. Midfielder Elliot Embleton ran at the heart of the Wycombe defence before shooting from outside of the area. His shot looked to be heading straight at the keeper but a last-second swerve on the ball beat the keeper as it flew past him to put the Black Cats one nil ahead. The famous Wembley Stadium shook as fans celebrated.
Both sides attacked in what was an open game; however, any threat posed by Wycombe was dealt with confidently by the Sunderland defence and their goalkeeper Anthony Patterson.
The second half was very much like the second with both teams creating opportunities; however, it was Sunderland who struck next in what was the decisive goal. Man of the Match Alex Pritchard gave the ball to top scorer Ross Stewart on the edge of the area, the Scot moved the ball onto his right foot before striking the ball into the net with the Wycombe keeper unmoved on his goalline.
With just 11 minutes left after Stewart’s goal, fans allowed themselves to begin nervously celebrating. Wycombe attacked but produced little and Sunderland comfortably hung on to win the game. Wembley erupted, shaking as fans cheered, sang and cried as they saw their team, Sunderland, the Black Cats seal promotion at Wembley.
Alex Neil: The Right Man at the Right Time
Alex Neil is a hero on Wearside, and rightly so. The former Norwich City manager was appointed in February after Lee Johnson was sacked. Sunderland were low on confidence, conceding goals at an alarming rate with results suffering as a result. Once Neil got to work with his new team they set off on a run that would end with what was then just a dream.
A 16 game unbeaten run saw the Black Cats seal promotion to the Championship in what has been a remarkable turnaround since Neil took over from Lee Johnson. The right man at just the right time for Sunderland.
Neil talked about the achievement of promotion and what happens next. He said: “I know I’ve only been here a short period of time but the bond, see when you create a moment in time like we’ve been able to do today, that will never dissipate. What you create with fans, players, staff, it never dissipates, never.
“When you come to a club like this, people love the fallen giant stuff, to stick the boot in. It was such a challenge for us. I’ve always had confidence that I could come to a big club and do the job. But to be brutally honest, you can only ever do with it the backing of the fans, who have been incredible, and with really good players.
“I’m extremely satisfied that I’ve managed to deliver for people who it really, really matters to. That for me is the most important thing, because it’s been tough at this club for the last few years.