League One Play-Off Final: Sunderland To Win Promotion?6 min read
Charlton and Sunderland might be formerly of the Premier League, but they go into this Play-Off Final with slightly different mind-sets.
For Charlton, this game represents a wonderful opportunity – it would be easier for the Addicks to find the buyer they need to end Roland Duchatelet’s ill-fated regime if they are a second-tier club – but they are financially stable and performing well above pre-season expectations.
Although Sunderland have the right ownership regime in place thanks to the arrival of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven last summer, the increase in income they would attain from promotion is necessary to justify heavy spending over the last 12 months.
“If we don’t get promoted it’ll be seen as a failure, we know that and understand the pressure. That’s why our celebrations weren’t crazy when we won the semi-final. Of course, we’re delighted to get through but we know that we’ve achieved nothing so far.”#SAFC pic.twitter.com/Rl5n8YPX8P
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 21, 2019
Charlton can say they have had a good season regardless of Sunday’s result, Sunderland need to deliver – who will come out on top?
Sunderland’s game management
Sunderland deserved their narrow 1-0 aggregate win over Portsmouth in the Semi-Final.
Although they did not create too many chances in the second leg, in which they were protecting a lead, their game management was very impressive.
At certain points this season, including the Black Cats’ last visit to Wembley, they have tried to manage the game in a defensive way and that has perhaps backfired.
At Fratton Park, Jack Ross’ side were certainly not averse to the defensive aspects – Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter produced some excellent blocks – but they also held onto the ball for longer and that relieved the burden sometimes on centre-backs Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan.
Still, the Wearsiders needed agile, brave goalkeeping from Jon McLaughlin at key moments – the former Burton stopper could be key at Wembley.
McGeady or no McGeady?
The only selection dilemma for Ross therefore, will come if Aiden McGeady is fit enough to feature following a foot injury – the manager is currently hopeful of having him available but the issue is expected to be touch-and-go up until kick-off.
The Irishman is the most naturally-gifted player in League One; he has European pedigree from his time at Spartak Moscow, Celtic and Everton, making him a potential game-changer.
Chris Maguire though scored a wonderful volley to give Sunderland the first leg lead, then he was the team’s most creative performer at Fratton Park.
Although he played on the right flank last Thursday rather than McGeady’s standard position of the left, incorporating similar players into the same XI might leave Sunderland defensively open – the work rate and leadership that captain George Honeyman provides from a wide position is very important.
Does Jack Ross pick McGeady and risk him not being at full sharpness, or the momentum going out of his side’s performance if he goes off injured again early on? Or does he stick with the template that worked in the Semi-Final at the expense of not having his best player in the starting XI?
It is a huge call for the Scot – whether he gets it right could define Sunderland’s season.
Drama at the Valley
Charlton’s passage to Wembley was not quite as comfortable as expected.
After Krystian Bielik put them two-goals ahead in the tie with Doncaster last Friday, few would have expected the Addicks to need a penalty shoot-out to go through after a 4-4 draw on aggregate including extra-time.
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) May 17, 2019
The game raised question marks about the defence, for the first time in a while.
Bielik, at the base of the midfield diamond in Lee Bowyer’s 4-4-2, closed down aggressively but Naby Sarr and Patrick Bauer, perhaps lacking mobility, did not have too much confidence in following him up and that led to yawning chasms that Doncaster exploited in the first half.
After the break, Bowyer addressed that issue by bringing experienced anchor man Darren Pratley on for Albie Morgan with Bielik dropping deeper in a switch to 3-5-2.
Although that switch tightened things up, it further restricted Charlton’s potential for creativity – especially with a left-back in Ben Purrington who is unlikely to attack the flank individualistically.
There are balance issues arising at an inconvenient time.
Charlton tend to create most of their chances through quick interplay, often via the inside left channel with Joe Aribo at the heart of things – the question is whether they can make that work against Sunderland, or whether the shield of Leadbitter and Cattermole may deny them that space in advanced areas.
Four of the last five League One Play-Off Finals have been won by the club that was most recently in the Championship – two of which were victorious in 90 minutes – which would imply that the team under more pressure to attain victory tends to perform better than their opponents.