Charlton v Sunderland
(Sunday 3:00pm, Sky Sports Football from 2:00pm, second half on Sky Sports Main Event from 4:00pm)
This one has a nice symmetry as the teams met in the first game of the season at the Stadium of Light – but it’s also an oddity in the recent history of third tier playoff finals. Third placed finishers have only been promoted twice in the last decade, whereas it’s been 13 years since a fifth placed finisher went up.
And of course, there’s always that game from 1999…
Anyway, as you should know by now I always treat it as an away game for both teams, although it’s fair to point out that Charlton only have to travel across London to get to Wembley.
Last ten aways: 5-3-2 11-6. Failed to score: 3. Clean sheets: 5
Playoff record at this level: Semi finalists 2010, 2018
The Addicks have only lost twice since New Year’s Day but the main reason they didn’t win automatic promotion was a wobble between January and March where they only won once in six games. Ultimately, it was arguably the reverse at Oxford last month – where they took the lead after five minutes and had a man advantage for 20 minutes but still lost – that was all that was between them and a realistic chance of automatic promotion.
That being said, Charlton’s defence was one of the better units in League One this season and it improved both from 2017/18 and over the last few weeks of the campaign – five of the Addicks’ eight away clean sheets occurred since mid-March – but it’s worth pointing out that Charlton conceded in all of their away games against the final top six.
The issue tomorrow may be how Charlton do offensively. Although they scored in all of their away games against the top six, they failed to score in three of their last ten road trips and didn’t notch in either game against Fleetwood or Peterborough, despite Posh having a worse than average defensive record at home.
One to watch: Lyle Taylor. Currently having his best season as a striker since scoring 24 goals whilst with Falkirk a few years ago, Taylor joined from Wimbledon last summer. Has scored almost half of his goals this season since New Year’s Day, but has also picked up eleven bookings and a red card as well.
Last ten aways: 3-5-2 12-8. Failed to score: 2 Clean sheets: 4
Playoff record at this level: Semi finalists 1987
It’s fair to say that after losing the Football League Trophy on penalties at the end of March, Sunderland wobbled a bit. That might have been more noticeable if the Black Cats had ever been in serious contention for automatic promotion, but one of the big reasons that never looked likely was because they drew an astonishing 60% of their games against teams that finished in the top half of the table and blew the lead in eight of those matches – including twice against Luton and Peterborough. More recently, they’ve now gone four regular season games without a win and their victory at Doncaster back in October was the only time during the regular season that they beat another side in the top six.
That’s not the sign of a great team and despite the brakes being applied to their slide down the divisions, Sunderland weren’t as good as many of us – myself included – thought they would be.
However, you’ve got to be a better than average team to reach the playoff final and there were some bright spots for Sunderland. They’re difficult to beat and their away defence was actually better than Charlton’s: they conceded fewer away goals than tomorrow’s opponents and three of their seven away clean sheets came at teams that finished in the top half – compared to Charlton’s one against the same opponents.
Without wanting to sound too negative, Sunderland have two major hurdles to overcome to win promotion. Despite not having found the back of the net since the start of April, veteran winger Aiden McGeady remains top scorer even though he’s nursing a broken bone in his foot and may not be 100% fit for the final. Only Lee Cattermole and Chris Macguire have scored more than five goals this season and they’re both on the wrong side of 30 so they’re hardly long term prospects. The other issue is psychological: one cannot underestimate what sort of an impact losing twice at Wembley in the same season would have on the team.
One to watch: Lynden Gooch. Not many players in the EFL have a brother who is a professional surfer, but according to Wikipedia Gooch does; the American born midfielder is the youngest of Sunderland’s outfield players to have featured in more than 20 games this season and – along George Honeyman – is a product of Sunderland’s youth system. Could be destined for a bright future, but if Sunderland don’t win tomorrow that might be elsewhere.
Head to head: in the ten games since that epic match in the 1999 Playoffs, both sides have won three times with four drawn games. In the light of Sunderland’s prowess at drawing games, that indicates we might be facing extra time tomorrow….which brings me nicely on to:
General Game Facts:
- The lower placed team has won eight of the last ten finals – good omen for Sunderland!
- Both teams have scored in six of the last ten finals
- Over the last decade, all three of the finals that finished all square after 90 minutes were ultimately decided by a penalty shoot out.
- Over 2.5 goals were scored in seven of the last ten finals
- Only three of the last ten games featured one goal or less; five of the last six have seen at least three goals scored.
- Over the last decade, London based teams are only 2-4 in the final: Millwall are responsible for two wins and two defeats. This is the first time since 2005 that a team from the North East that wasn’t from Yorkshire has reached the final. Hartlepool lost 4-2 to Sheffield Wednesday, which is still the highest scoring final at this level.
In my opinion – and I’m not exactly reliable in my predictions – Charlton look primed to return to the Championship after three seasons in League One. Despite the chaotic off field situation, they’ve improved year on year and the fact that their away defence has been so good so recently seems to indicate that they’re on a roll.
That’s not to say Sunderland should be completely ruled out, but clubs that were relegated do not have a habit of winning promotion via the playoffs at the end of the following season. Add that to the singular lack of success by fifth placed teams over the years and you’ve got compelling reasons why Sunderland shouldn’t be the favourites.