Sunderland is one match away from leaving its Dark Ages and returning to better times.
The former Premier League side suffered two consecutive relegations from the Premier League and the Championship. After a well-fought season in League One, the Black Cats were in prime position to achieve automatic promotion to the Championship, but a dip in form saw Sunderland drop down into the playoff places. After losing to Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy final just a few weeks ago, the Black Cats had their chance to take their revenge. After being drawn against Portsmouth in the League One playoff semifinals, the Wearsiders had a point to prove.
Just like in the on-going Championship playoffs, the League One semifinals are played over two legs. Portsmouth traveled to the Stadium of Light for the first leg, going down a goal courtesy of Chris Maguire. Just five minutes later, Sunderland center back Alim Ozturk received a red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. But the Wearsiders hung on, seeing out the first leg with a one-goal aggregate lead.
Sunderland’s trip down to the south coast proved to be as tightly contested as the first leg.
Jack Ross opted for a more tough-tackling and defensive lineup, starting Grant Leadbitter alongside Lee Cattermole as the two holding midfielders. The ball possession was split down the middle 50-50, with both sides also taking the same amount of shots.
The match was full of fouls and tough challenges. Three Portsmouth and two Sunderland players received a yellow card and the match had a total of 34 fouls.
While Portsmouth huffed and puffed, it wasn’t enough to trouble the Black Cats back line, which defended admirably. American Lynden Gooch played 20 minutes of the second leg after playing 70 minutes of the first leg. Operating out wide on the left, Gooch did his part to deliver a few good crosses into the box and held up the ball well in the corner during added time.
Sunderland held on for a 0-0 draw and 1-0 aggregate victory.
ABSOLUTE SCENES! #SAFC pic.twitter.com/q0X0HWl43Q— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 16, 2019
All in all, Sunderland fans will be relieved and joyous for their long trip back up north. Sunderland will play either Charlton Athletic or Doncaster Rovers in the final, two teams the Black Cats should beat.
W. E. M. B. L. E. Y.B. O. U. N. D. pic.twitter.com/NvL556FXgE
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 16, 2019
The buoyant mood on Wearside has definitely returned, at least for now.